Johnny Marr - 'The Messenger'
The Godlike Genius and guitar-slinger for hire finally goes it alone, rifling through pop history to reveal himself as a natural born frontman and a writer to rival his old mate Moz
But Johnny pottered along for decades, lacing other people’s albums with his legendary licks, saving the above ideas for his first ever solo album (except the one about the kiddie-cats, which he cut out at the last minute). An album recorded in Berlin and built around the theme of cities and buildings – our formative love affairs and hateful splits with them. ‘The Messenger’ is essentially the scene in South Park where Stan’s dad finally gets access to the extremely limited supply of online porn, only Johnny’s copiously spouting gallons of pent-up ideas.
Each tune throws up a different style, creating a one-man compilation album that rifles through 25 years of lush or edgy genres, perfecting every one. Opener ‘The Right Thing Right’ pays homage to the new wave of northern soul all-nighters to tell a tale about how we’re cyber-tracked and cookie-profiled so our Facebook pages can be plagued with exactly the right Dogging In Dagenham websites (we all get those, right?). Then ‘I Want The Heartbeat’ tells the story of a Lottery winner leaving his wife for a heart-rate monitor to a Horrors-style motorik stampede. ‘Upstarts’ finds Johnny imagining pre-teens rioting against primary school fee hikes over a Cribs pop squeal.
Marr’s musical masks switch as adroitly as the big issues he sketches around. ‘Word Starts Attack’ tackles the Instagram dependencies of Generation Txt in the form of funk-punk; ‘Say Demesne’ confronts the tragedies of teenage prostitution via ’80s synth-noir. And thus Marr builds the unlikeliest of conceits – a record by an expat approaching 50 that encapsulates the modern British urban youth experience.
‘The Messenger’ isn’t just a summary of everything worthwhile in contemporary rock music, it’s an insightful and informed dissection of life in 2013 and all the futile iOS updates, cyberstalking conglomerates and financial travesties that clog up the spaces between us. In a world claiming to connect us all, it argues, we’re getting more and more dislocated. “Screens are replacing faces and hearts,” Marr told NME recently, and Johnny’s solution is to find comfort and companionship in the real-life flesh and stone around us.
So how didn’t we notice that the quiet straight man of the indie era was secretly one of its most confrontational and natural born rock stars? Next week, Brian from Yeah Yeah Yeahs turns out to be this generation’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
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