Legend has it that when he was recording the first Electronic album Johnny Marr griped that he was sick of sounding like Johnny Marr. He was met with a sharp reminder from his band mate Barney Sumner that he was Johnny Marr. Possibly with a few expletives thrown in for good measure.
Any feelings of lingering self doubt are blasted away on this, Marr’s first solo album. Yes, his singing is not quite up to his former vocal foils in Talking Heads, The Smiths and Modest Mouse et al but Christ, his guitar playing is still incendiary, delicate and un-showy.
The Messenger is remarkable for both its late arrival (Marr is now 49 and it’s been over a quarter of a century since The Smiths split) and the fact that he’s still riding an endless spiral of invention after all these years. He opens with two cracking volleys of headlong guitar – The Right Thing Right and I Want The Heartheart – and both songs are ferocious statements of intent.
As the past 25 years have shown, Marr is forever moving forward like a shark but his ease with the past can be heard on European Me which dusts down Rusholme Ruffians (originally lifted from Elvis's His Latest Flame) and the autobiographical New Town Velocity which builds a neat bridge between then and now - it has the same exquisite melancholia of The Smiths but also features Marr's daughter Sonny on backing vocals and his son Nile on guitar.
Elsewhere, the nagging chords and quicksilver riff of Upstarts nod to Marr's post-punk heritage, Lockdown has both an irresistible melody and flashes of Bernard Butler-like glam guitar, and Generate! Generate! delves into chiming chords before building back to a raging solo.
So Marr’s hefting his Rickenbacker and playing like a demon again. Maybe this eventual solo excursion was inspired by two artists who owe him a huge debt; Noel Gallagher is enjoying a hugely successful second act following the blessed demise of Oasis and Graham Coxon has made some superlative post-Blur solo peregrinations.
Perhaps The Messenger would have made more sense back in the lad rock mid-nineties and while his vocals may be wanting in places, Johnny Marr is back sounding like nobody else but Johnny Marr.