It took 30-odd years to see through, but The Messenger is former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr’s first solo album. Written and produced by Marr himself, it is the first of his many recordings to express solely his own musical vision, after working recently with Modest Mouse and of course, after his work for many years with Morrissey. The Messenger gives us a look at Johnny Marr the vocalist; soft but emphatic—a kind of cross between Bernard Sumner and Noel Gallagher. It’s on the title-track where Sumner’s sensitivity is most detected, while the first single, “Upstarts,” echoes the higher peaks of latter day Oasis. Lyrically, Marr speaks in abstracts, so there is no solid narrative throughout the release—at least not one that is easily detected. But this shouldn’t be of concern to anyone, as The Smiths catalog is readily available to anyone seeking raw commentary.
As for the music, Marr’s guitar work on The Messenger is notably less jangly than he’s been known for, but lacks none of the dynamism that Marr has been credited for throughout his years as a performer. Songs like “The Crack Up” and “Word Starts Attack” suggest that Marr has taken a liking to newer groups like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes. But “I Want The Heartbeat” and “Generate! Generate!” remind everyone that he still knows how to rock out the good old-fashioned English way.
Again, it has taken Johnny Marr a long time to step out on his own, but The Messenger was worth the wait, and perhaps it is only a preview of what he has planned for the future.