Johnny Marr’s new solo album bears the distinct influence of his former band—though perhaps not the one that immediately springs to mind.
With the possibility of a Smiths reunion becoming ever more distant with each passing Coachella announcement, and the prospect of a fat-Elvis Morrissey Vegas revue all but inevitable, the ever-humble Marr has been eager to assume the role of anonymous sideman to spiritual offspring both unlikely (Modest Mouse) and obvious (The Cribs). The Cribs’s crystalline but feisty power-pop seems to have rubbed off the most on The Messenger. The new record forsakes the bloozy bluster of Marr’s 2003 outing (with his short-lived band, The Healers) to showcase the guitarist’s unerringly melodic lines over 12 tracks whose shimmering surfaces belie their uneasy undercurrents.
But while he’s willing to try his hand at everything from Motown-inspired stomps to nervy new wave, Marr’s temperate, plainspoken vocals don’t always boast the same depth of character as his playing. After a snappy opening streak, the album sags when the songs require him to navigate moodier midtempo fare (the plodding “Say Demesne”) and bolster par-for-the-pub Britpop (“The Crack Up”).
Like its namesake vocation, The Messenger is most effective when not saddled with heavy baggage.
Playlist picks: “The Right Thing Right,” “Lockdown”