Johnny Marr – The Messenger (2013)

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A hired gun and a second fiddle for almost his entire career thus far, Johnny Marr finally slips into the driver’s seat with The Messenger. His debut solo record is his own creation from top to bottom, a propulsive and diverse recording top-loaded with raucous accoutrements and immense souvenirs.

NME’s “Godlike Genius” dealt magic in the Smiths and co-wrote songs with Morrissey for the meaty part of the 1980s before spending a good chunk of time as a session artist for the likes of the Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Billy Bragg, and Oasis. He also formed a few groups, including the still-active Johnny Marr and the Healers and spent three years as part of Modest Mouse.

That doesn’t even touch on his time with Wakefield’s the Cribs or The The or Electronic or Seven Worlds Collide or…

Those experiences have found bits and pieces of Marr in some really, really fantastic musical moments. His guitar-playing, whether down to the discordant Rickenbacker/Fender Telecaster days of the Smiths or the emphatic Fender Jaguar he sports on The Messenger, has always been the subject of awe. With the new record, it is supported and somewhat offset by his singing and songwriting kicks.

For Marr, his solo debut winds up being a trudge through the experiences of living in Britain, living in some rather remarkable bands and living through some rather remarkable moments. This lends the obvious air of flickering shoegaze to the lovely “Say Demesne,” for instance, and lines the cabin of “Lockdown” with soaring, scrabbling guitar. It also plunks “Upstarts” right in the garage-band era, with Marr’s economical vocals scrambling through careering lines and his guitar flecking the landscape like something out of a slowed-down Ramones record.

The nearly pastoral “New Town Velocity” is another highlight. This spacious tune is guided into position by delicate strumming and Marr’s basic singing. It settles with Sonny Marr’s backing vocals.

Marr’s The Messenger is a very good record, but I’m not convinced it’s a great one. The songs bubble with tokens of the past and it’s cool without pause to hear the legend’s take on his career from a different place under some different lights. His thoughtful ruminations have value, without question, but one longs for what this vessel sounds like when it’s pointed straight-ahead.

Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at
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