Johnny Marr’s “The Messenger” is almost impossible to listen to without hearing connections to his previous groups. For years, Marr stood on the side stage, subtly weaving his guitar riffs into albums not completely his own for The Smiths, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and others. Just a few months shy of his 50th birthday in October, Marr has released “The Messenger,” which is two parts The Smiths, one part Modest Mouse and the rest is all Marr.
The solo album opens with “The Right Thing Right,” and Marr’s oddly Bono-esque vocals warble through your speakers. The first song is hard to listen to without thinking, “Why was Marr pushed to the side with The Smiths?” Lead singer Morrissey’s vocals were what made The Smiths The Smiths, but Marr’s vocals don’t warrant the semi-sidekick role he played to Morrissey.
“Generate! Generate!” uses repeated phrases for punchier lyricism. The use of the double lyrics create a forward-moving tone.
The most unique song of the album, “Say Demesne,” brings in a creepier opening, and Marr takes his vocals down a notch to match.
The title track, “The Messenger,” brings in Modest Mouse influences. The opening riff is less airy than the guitar sections on most of the other songs, crafting a more individual title track.
Marr ends his debut with “Word Starts Attack,” which rips open with a banging guitar lick. It is set to a faster tempo than the rest, and Marr’s vocals step away from the soothing serenade of the rest of the album and adopt a more urgent tone.
“The Messenger” has created a kind of Brit-pop catchiness distinct from the more mainstream American pop. Its riffs are light and not overly done. Marr’s album is reflective of The Smiths’ style most were expecting, but with more muscle and punch.