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Johnny Marr - The Messenger

Hey! look: there’s an elephant in the room, and it has SMITHS tattooed on its side in Times New Roman.

All efforts to review The Messenger without alluding to the band that made Johnny Marr one of the most revered guitarists of all time have proved futile. And in a way he only has himself to blame: while Morrissey has a dozen post-break-up albums to his name, and is therefore justified in feeling aghast at only ever hearing about the Smiths, this actually is Marr’s first solo album proper (2003’s Boomslang was credited to Johnny Marr + The Healers). In the meantime, he has played with more artists than most people own records, but this is his moment, his chance – at the tender age of 49 – to switch from right-hand man to frontman.

Thankfully, The Messenger is no Smiths-lite LP.  Sure, the distinctive playing is there all right, and European Me’s opening chords bear an uncanny resemblance to Rusholme Ruffians, but for the rest, there isn’t a single gladioli in sight. Rather, the only recurring theme, musically, is Manchester and its plethora of post-punk genres. The white funk groove of Word Starts Attack is pure A Certain Ratio, while the achingly beautiful New Town Velocity is the sort of gem that could have graced New Order’s Technique. Even the album’s one duff track, Upstarts, is redeemed by a bonkers end-of-chorus variation last championed by Steve Diggle’s Flag Of Convenience.

A cracking collection of songs, unfettered by trends or record label diktats… and a quarter of a century overdue.

(Ada Music / Rough Trade Benelux)