For 30 years, Johnny Marr has set the music world aflame with his signature sound, inspiring guitarists throughout his entire career. Most-notably, much of that ascension came with the rise of The Smiths and songwriting partner Morrissey.
Since that band’s demise in 1987 – a split that is still lamented by an ardent fan base that spans the globe – Marr hasn’t hardly been kicking his feet back. Stints and guest spots with The Pretenders, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and even Dinosaur Jr. followed.
Aside from fronting a Healers record in 2003, Marr has mainly kept his post sidestage though. Now, with his true solo debut The Messenger coming out Feb. 26, Marr is officially branching out on his own in a diverse 12-song package.
The Messenger opens with “I Want the Heartbeat,” which has driving drums and a screeching riff that makes it a good fit for any Steve McQueen car chase. “The Right Thing Right” is classic Brit pop that channels U2 for its catchy chorus.
Four tracks in, the upbeat “Upstarts” kicks in a solid protest anthem, as Marr sings “Upstarts on their way / Upstarts now have to pay,” and “The underground is overground / The overground will pull you down.” The video for the song is simplistically appropriate, too, with Marr stomping out the song in an airplane hangar.
And then there is the title track, which was inspired by Marr’s desire to return to his home of Manchester, England. “The Messenger” also carries an appropriate video, with Marr roaming Manchester beaches.
“The underlying idea of the record is my experience of living in Britain,” Marr said in a statement. “When you’re away from your home city you’re more compelled to write about it. Growing up in the city influences you, and as I’ve grown older I’ve continued to see beauty, energy and stories in it.”
“European Me” shows Marr’s diversity. The man who was recently honored with NME’s Godlike Genius award takes his signature Fender Jaguar down more of a surf-rock path and the dreamy chorus only furthers that sentiment.
There is a beachy quality to “New Town Velocity,” as well. Marr lays down a vibe that calls to mind breezy days on the beach.
On all of the tracks, Marr’s voice fares well, especially notable considering this is the first time he’s taken over the mic full-time. It’s a bit like one would expect from such an iconic rocker – very cool with a slight hint of drawl.
For a guy who has carried the music with his hands for so many years, it is refreshing to hear Marr’s voice added to the mix.
Through it all, however, The Messenger seems like a referendum on Marr’s entire career.
Listeners can find Easter eggs containing hints of The Smiths, Modest Mouse and many things in between on the entire record.
That is a notion that Marr agrees with.
“The thing about this record is I only had a few considerations and one of those was that it had to be natural and to not overthink things and to do the things that come naturally and not try to reinvent my own wheel,” Marr told Time. “I’ve tried to do that a few times before. I was more interested in connecting with the person that I was before The Smiths.
“I would say –if I had to put a label on it – it was half the groups before The Smiths and the rest of the groups after the Smiths. People hear Electronic in it! So I wouldn’t say I’m returning to the sound of The Smiths, that was just me.”
For more information, visit Marr’s official website.