There is no shortage of reviews and articles written about the recent release of the first solo album from JOHNNY MARR, 25 years after the demise of THE SMITHS. That’s for sure. MARR hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, he’s been one of the busiest men in alternative rock music since THE SMITHS split in 1987 but always by attaching himself to a project or blending into bands, sometimes as a collaborator (ELECTRONIC), sometimes as a mentor (THE CRIBS, MODEST MOUSE), and sometimes just as a hired guitar slinger (PRETENDERS).
I must admit I am not completely familiar with all of the projects through the years, but the ones I am familiar with have tended to be included in some of my all time favorite music. I always respected and appreciated the variety of work he produced. I think that probably was the most effective way to continue on after THE SMITHS, and all the baggage associated with that bands’ legendary status for so many people. Bottom line, even without THE SMITHS, MARR‘s guitar playing stands out, because of his ability to use riffs and rhythms to create such a unique sound. Of course, THE SMITHS were what they were and there is no getting away from it. The band was a blend of an exceptionally tight rhythm section (MIKE JOYCE and ANDY ROURKE) with MARR‘s “no solo” riff-centric mentality. As I am often quoted as saying, “nothing like it at the time.”
MARR always used his projects to stay focused and relevant. Yet he rarely came forward to the spotlight. Unlike the HEALERS project ten years ago, “The Messanger” sounds like a solo album. The liner notes look like a solo album (no guests except his children). Working with ex-HEALER (and collaborator for the past decade), JAMES DOVIAK, the production plays to his strengths, highlighting the guitar. On “The Messenger” MARR shows his songwriting is the solid base to support the weight of his legendary guitar style. And that legendary sound is certainly there, enhancing the strong collection of songs. In recent interviews, MARR acknowledges he is now comfortable incorporating the signature sounds he is responsible for in this new batch of music. This makes it completely new and warmly familiar at the same time; the best we could have hoped for. Check out the riff at the end ”The Right Thing Right.” And the way the acoustic intro to “New Town Velocity” sets up the beautiful riff. It’s all so tasteful and not in your face. I hope it’s not another 10 or 20 years before the next solo album.
JOHNNY MARR “The Messenger”
JOHNNY MARR “Upstarts”