After more than two decades of side projects and hired gun sessions Johnny Marr finally steps into the frontman role with a diverse collection of songs that showcase his guitar and songwriting chops.
Hearing how effortless Johnny Marr's first official solo album feels it seems odd to that it took him twenty five years after the Smiths break-up to get around to making it. The Messenger is diverse and wide reaching in it's styles, which could make it sound like a compilation rather than an actual album. But the cohesive songwriting and performances along with excellent sequencing make it work as a whole album. A whole album with a lot of potential singles. This isn't one of those record where you can call out the two or three best songs, it's loaded with strong songs.
The record has a youthful energy to it, but is crafted in a way that only a skilled veteran could pull off. Marr touches on points throughout his entire career, offering hints at other songs without ever sounding he's trying replicate a particular reference. Along with the Smiths, Electronic, and the Healers he served briefly in The The, Modest Mouse, and the Cribs. Plus as a session player he's worked with an impressive range of talents, including Talking Heads, Edwyn Collins, Billy Bragg, Tom Jones, Kirsty MacColl, Bryan Ferry, Pretenders, and Pet Shop Boys. Obviously Marr took notes over the years, cherry picking skills and processes to be used at a future date.
No one needs to reminded of what a great guitarist Marr is - he's proven himself many times with both incredibly large riffs as well as a subtly and restraint that many of the guitar heroes lack. As a songwriter he's been properly vetted in the past, but here he really gets to stand on his own and prove once and for all that he has mastered the entire songwriting process. I've seen some disparaging comments about the vocals, which I don't get. The vocals aren't necessarily dynamic, but they're strong enough that I had to check the credits and verify that it was him singing and not a "professional" vocalist.
This is one of my most played albums of the year so far, and as we go into Summer I only see those plays getting more frequent. If you're looking for bright jangly Britpop loaded with infectious melodies the Messenger is the place to start. This is the record that Smiths fans have been waiting for for many years. But it's so much more than that.