One of my most prized concert experiences was seeing R.E.M. with Johnny Marr perform “Pretty Persuasion.” It was not because Johnny Marr particularly added something to the song but it was the coalescing of 80s alternative icons on stage that was cool to see. That same kind of 80s alternative coalescing is what we see on Johnny Marr’s debut solo album, The Messenger. While Smiths’ fans may come into the album expecting Marrs’s signature jangle pop guitars, they are rarely seen on the album. The album’s opening track “The Right Thing Right” is a driving arena rock track that sounds instrumentally more like Sunny Day Real Estate than the Smiths. The track’s strong hook makes for a memorable opener and sets the tone for the album. The album’s first half seems to revolve around these driving rockers. “European Me” slightly breaks the cycle with its acoustic guitar backbone which gives the track more of a James feel but it still contains a driving rhythm.
As the album wears on so does the energy. “Say Demesne” is a midtempo ballad that is reminiscent of darkwave bands like Echo and the Bunnymen. The moody track sounds great but as the longest track on the album, it overstays its welcome. “The Crack Up” is easily one of the best track on the album. The track is uptempo but more jaunty than driving. It features an R&B groove that is reminiscent of mid-90s Rolling Stones and a poppy chorus that make the track feels like an obvious single contender.
Truth be told, the album has a lot of single contenders. Marr clearly has an ear for hooks so even in the context of what would not normally be poppy post-punk. The album’s greatest feat however, is how it encompasses 80s alternative without sounding like any specific band. It gives off the aura of era without aping anyone. For 40 year old who remember seeing Mission of Burma in a basement, this album was clearly made for you.
MP3: Johnny Marr “The Crack Up”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl