Don’t look back in angora: Johnny Marr has crafted an assured debut solo release

WE have a running joke in the office about the number of bands I have seen over the years. It often involves me recounting the tours I saw certain bands on and how early in their careers I caught them. It usually ends with our Production Editor  saying she saw Pink Floyd and me leaving in a huff.

One band no one in Gazette Towers, not even I, can say we saw back in the day was The Smiths. Not for want of trying, however. I was an immense Smiths fan and still am. Their sense of humour and melody, charm and Mancunian drollery, were a salve to teenage ears, and have been a go-to ever since.

Now, too many years later, the ubiquitous guitar hero of all those years ago and many since, Johnny Marr, has released his ‘official’ solo release, The Messenger (his release with The Healers in 2003 notwithstanding).

From the off, this is as close to a return to those glory, glory days as Johnny has been involved in since the acrimonious end of The Smiths in 1987.

He has been far from idle since, playing with the aforementioned Healers, as well as being a member of The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs.

From the opening notes, there’s no doubt as to who is responsible for the music on offer. The jangling guitar and tubthumping drums that open The Right Right Thing are trademark Marr, and the record continues in a similar vein on several of the tracks.

That’s far from detracting from what’s going on here – Marr and the peerless rythym  section in The Smiths could rock like demons  when the mood took them, and it’s no different here.  Lead track Upstarts is an almost glam stomp full of bright fills and Lockdown is another kicking track.

The title track is another that harkens back to glory, utterly reminiscent of the kind of track that Marr produced with Bernard Sumner of New Order when the two collaborated as Electronic.

Bubbling under the surface on a number of the tracks is the ghost in the room, Stephen Patrick Morrissey. With Marr having been responsible for the always magnificent Smiths tunes that Morrissey crooned upon, there are a couple of songs on The Messenger when you utterly expect the singer of yore to appear through the mix.

Marr’s music, however, remains all his own, and is strong enough to carry a full album of well-crafted and catchy guitar songs with exactly the right combination of nostalgia and invention to make something new and unique.

With Johnny set to grace the Olympia stage at the end of March, there’s a lot of expectation ahead of his live shows, not least whether some of The Smiths oeuvre will appear in the setlist. Even without those songs, there is plenty going on in The Messenger to herald a great night of celebration of one of the most important and influential figures in music over the last 30 years.