Though the Smiths split up over a quarter of a century ago, this is Johnny Marr’s first solo album. After various stints in other bands – the most recent of which being working with The Cribs on their album ‘Ignore the Ignorant’ – Marr has finally decided to take to the studio with just him and his legendary guitar. There’s no denying that the expectation was high among fans, especially those who remember the golden days, but lets see what the ex Smiths guitarist has to offer.
I have to admit, when I first heard the single ‘Upstarts’ I was rather underwhelmed. It seemed insultingly simple and repetitive coming from a man who was behind the opening riff to ‘This Charming Man’. Lyrically it is no better. Just to be clear, I don’t think ‘Upstarts’ is a bad song, I just expected more from Johnny Marr. Regardless of this initial disappointment, I went and got ‘The Messenger’ and I can tell you now, there is nothing disappointing about it. After one listen you can see how ‘Upstarts’ fits into the album’s chronology and appreciate that there are better things either side. The opening track, ‘The Right Thing Right’ retains some the musical intricacy we associate with Marr but also has a bit more power to it that we can see he has developed over his career. The album is a very personal one and the track ‘Lockdown’ I think gives us the clearest indication of this. It makes references to ‘ghost towns’ which we can safely assume relate back to where Marr started his career: Manchester. In the title track ‘The Messenger’ Marr sings ‘I don’t wanna be a messenger’ which gives us and insight to the irony felt throughout the album because he can be nothing but in his career. The guitar riffs are characteristically infallible and Marr’s lyrics have clearly sprouted from within, though being slightly repetitive.
Following the solo success of Morrissey this must obviously have been a daunting task for Johnny Marr to try and make his own personal stamp on the music industry. I think there is enough in ‘The Messenger’ to suggest that one day we will hold Marr’s music in as high esteem as The Smiths or Morrissey. However, I’m not sure this will be the album that puts him there.