Since his days in The Smiths, Johnny Marr has been known on stage for his squeaky clean guitar sound. With his flawless mixture of broken chords high up on the neck, combined with his fluid picking hand, Marr used to make guitarists like Noel Gallagher drool. Gallagher even said that there’s not a guitarist like him because “no one can play what he plays.”
So it’s only expected that the guitar on Marr’s debut solo album would be anything but salivating. In his album Messenger, the riffs are fast paced and are big enough to get a full stadium of people jumping. The first slow song doesn’t come until the eighth track “Say Demesne,” which inches forward with a somber “How Soon is Now?”-like guitar that has a haunting keyboard line screeching over that. Marr’s guitar skills don’t seem to have diminished at all and he still shows the ability to put together compelling songs.
The part I’m concerned with is the vocals. Marr’s voice is never out of tune and he doesn’t have an annoying voice, but he lacks the power that some of his guitar riffs need. When I hear the vocals I picture Marr being content and lackadaisical as he croons into his recording microphone. The closing song, “World Starts Attack,” goes from pulsing and angry chord progressions to soft, echoing vocals—when other singers might think that this would be a song worth blowing out their vocal chords with. But maybe the hypnotic effect of his vocals was what he wanted.
The singing is my only critique of Marr’s debut. His voice is still better than a lot of singers, and he never sang in his bands. The album sounds like what Marr might have made in the 80s. For a lot of older musicians, they can’t deal with the pressure of creating material that compares to their younger days. For Marr, he still can, he just may need someone like Morrissey.
Key Tracks: “Lockdown,” “Upstarts,” “The Right Thing Right”
RIYL: The Smiths, Modest Mouse, The The
Check out “Upstarts” below: