Jim F finds that despite spending years in the background, there’s always been a frontman in Johnny Marr that’s been fighting to get out.
Rather like the end of one of those Rom-Com films when the perennial Bridesmaid suddenly steps forward and becomes the blushing bride, so Johnny Marr, at the ripe old age of 49, after playing second fiddle (so to speak) in The Cribs, Modest Mouse and of course The Smiths, Marr has chosen to step into the limelight, and release his first solo albums.
Like trying on a wardrobe of jackets, Marr explores a whole range of styles, but it seems that the confidence in his craft and songwriting (and perhaps more surprisingly, his vocals) means he’s comfortable in all of them. Opener ‘The Right thing right’ almost sounds like his former charges taking on a Who track, and his languid northern vocal style is at once uprising and satisfying. I want the heartbeat veers into almost post punk territory, choppy guitars prominent, telling stories that, well, you know might have been proud of, and then Messenger kicks into Britpop revisited.
Over the course of the rest of the album Marr takes on rip roaring Indie with Upstarts, darker synth-driven sounds with Say Demense, like Richard Hawley fronting Depeche Mode in places, as Marr tackles prostitution and its effect, and the pure pop-rock sensibility of tunes like New Town Velocity, possibly culminating the guitar- pop perfection of the title track. In doing these (and other) things, he demonstrates that nothing has diminished his songwriting skill over the years, and left to his own lyrical devices, he can tackle issues and confront stereotypes and tell stories with every bit as much skill as pretty much any one of the lyricists he has worked with in his career.
The album twist and turns, trying its hand at one thing and the next even finishing with his take on a sort of disco/indie/funk experiment with Word Starts Attack, but the thing that strikes you is that this is a man who can turn his hand to anything and make it sound more than convincing, he makes its sound great, and convincing.
Its difficult to know whether The messenger is an outpouring of creative expression lasting maybe years, decades even, or if its a masterclass to every up and coming ‘sound of 2013’ artist out there, as much to say -You’ve done well, but this is what you could do. And don’t forget it.