by Chris Familton
26 years after departing what many felt were the most important UK band of the 80s Johnny Marr is finally releasing his debut solo album after collaborations with Bernard Sumner, The The, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and others yet The Messenger defiantly signals a return to those original tumbling notes and familiar sparkling chords.
The immediate thing that stands out is the upbeat nature of the record. It struts and postures like all great guitar pop records. There is little trace of maudlin indie strumming yet there are a number of moments where the ghost of The Smiths wink from the past. European Me is a widescreen, grand gestured song built on choppy rhythms and wandering guitar notes. It’s the moment where you try to resist but can’t help wondering what Morrissey’s voice would sound like over the top. Upstarts highlights the influence of Modest Mouse with dissonance added to the guitars as they dance a peppy jig across jagged drums. The excellent title track offers another angle with a wistful disco groove painting a melancholic landscape like a lost Roxy Music track.
Vocally Marr is competent and aware that it is his songwriting and playing that are the main attraction. He wisely uses his voice as another musical tone, a conveyer of words and when it works best it is partially submerged in the music as on the swirling Lockdown. The Messenger hits a second half lull where hooks and nuance give way to some uninspired songs but Marr comes good at the end with the heavily textured nostalgia of New Town Velocity. It has been a long time coming but Marr shows he still has some of the songwriting nous and particularly the magic in his fingertips that caught the imagination of so many a quarter century ago.
this review was first published in The Drum Media / http://www.themusic.com.au