Johnny’s The Messenger LP in the spotlight.
It took a while for Johnny Marr to ‘go solo’ and I get a sense that it was something that finally happened rather than this being what the world was waiting for. As it happens, the world has had Johnny in all kinds of forms already even if we didn’t always know; he plays a rather classy bit of guitar on a Girls Aloud song or two, plays in this band and plays that riff on that song you like from that fella who did that album once upon a time. He also grabbed the blonde fella from the band Joy Division never were and we all got the message, he’s been everywhere man, and very nearly a Happy Monday too.
On The Messenger Johnny does have something to say but its not some mad lunge for the spotlight made because no other vehicle is good enough to carry the idea, Johnny Marr is always looking for things to get excited about and solo was what’s next.
The Right Thing Right leaves the intro long enough to let you get your seatbelt on and it drives along, punchy and fidgety but in the best possible way. Lyrically it seems to be about consumer society, maybe youth, “way too smart, short on innocence… I believe it all but I don’t feel it”. If it is about the way society is heading it’s not pessimistic or condescending in any way, the guitar break is glorious, it all comes together to create this defiant picture of someone who has had enough of listening and is not going to sit back anymore.
I Want The Heartbeat keeps up the same kind of pace and again seems to be a comment on technology ruling the world, when you read the words there seems to be some kind of Frankenstein’s monster idea where someone is literally trying to create something out of a machine instead of finding it in real life. In the time it takes you to figure all that out though, the blistering song is done.
European Me starts with a jolt, lyrically it’s about transplanting from one place to another in search of better life and the guitar work is beautiful. I feel like sometimes Johnny’s guitar work cradles what’s going on musically and at other points the music is an alternate conversation to the one his lyrics show us, this happens here. Listen to the instrumentation when there’s no vocal and when there is, two different things happen, chemistry. The vocals are full of promise and the guitars are dreamy but then the lyrics are somewhat uncertain and the guitar and drums gets all menacy and shadowy. “I was outside and I’ve still got a place to go” becomes “…Have we still got a place to go?” at the end.
Upstarts is a stomp, another tune of rebellion against whatever the man has, probably. Who doesn’t love a bit of protest and it’s catchy but my heart well and truly belongs to the next track, Lockdown. I feel the same kind of protest and defiance as at other points of the album but on Lockdown it comes with guitar work I am unashamedly in love with. Like when you heard the Take me back to dear old Blighty and the drum loop at the start of The Queen is Dead and you thought (I assume), “oooh bloody hell this is going to be brilliant”, Lockdown has the same kind of quality to me – it’s a bit Weller but it makes you want to stand up and shout YES, YES, THIS IS WHAT MUSIC CAN DO! That’s powerful, let me tell you, because I can’t even stand up – Look out everyone, pushed hard for too long? Not happy with the way you or it is seen? Take it back! Look back but break out at the same time. I get all of this from just short of four minutes of musical perfection. Did I mention the guitar, the drums? No? Just, listen.
Lockdown is actually about walking about towns and being proud of where you are from even if outside people think it’s a shit hole. It’s an ‘up yours’ answer to a guy that wrote a book listing Britain’s crappest towns, seaside mostly, but, the rest is there too. In buckets (and spades).
The Messenger drifts in with the idea that everyone is one, even if they don’t know they are giving out messages or someone doesn’t want to hear what they have to say; communication, lack of it and knowing when to step in and help even if assistance isn’t welcomed. We’ve all been there. If that doesn’t grab you it will musically.
Generate Generate kicks down the door and it is seemingly a half apology from someone (maybe Johnny) for being impatient or hyper – I say half apology because it’s a bit of a this is me, take it or leave it – sorry not sorry. “I blaze by and I wonder why, calculate, calculate, calculate…. I come by let the atoms fly, Generate! Generate! Generate!” In the best sense of the word this song is instant and punky and not over thought, there’s even a nod to the dangers of overthinking in the lyrics…
Cogito ergo dumb – I think therefore I’m dumb.
Say Demesne is very filmic, starts off all dark and sinister but it really soars, Sun and Moon is about media, television and culture, it’s also about a thundering drum track and more guitar.
Johnny Marr does manage to thread together an album that sounds instant and fresh but also has cleverness and a common message. He isn’t taking his god like status too seriously and he isn’t using that as a stage to go and preach from. When he’s talking about being bombarded by instant social media (on the final track, Word Starts Attack), or television guilty pleasures, he’s celebrating it at the same time as mocking it. I come in to the lounge when my flatmate’s watching Jeremy Kyle and I feel obliged to say “get this shit off the telly, not him again?” knowing full well that I’ll be offering social commentary on it an hour later in my house and then on twitter with everyone else.
I’ll save the final words for New Town Velocity the penultimate track, it’s one for your headphones, it’s one that sounds great while you are moving through your own world, your day, it sounds like open spaces and wandering.
“Left home a mystery”, sings Johnny; Jesus, doesn’t everyone? This song is a testament to knowing you have to make something happen, not knowing if it will all work out but believing it will. Theres a bit of melancholy here but not enough to drag it down, “can I get the world right here?”, he did pretty well in that regard didn’t he? My advice is to just turn it on and go. If that sounds too wishy washy then you have my apologies, language is an annoying necessity and sometimes words do get in the way but they are all I have. Over a thousand words are used here to tell you to LISTEN to the Messenger.
Johnny Marr brings with him an avalanche of musical history, he has never hidden from it so much as run in the opposite direction, running to the next thing and never keeping still; there’s movement here and if it all goes too fast you can press play and hear it all over again.
© 2015 Simon A. Moult / Moultymedia Images © Twinkletoes / CJL