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Johnny Marr - The Messenger 

The Messenger has arrived! With screeching breaks, breakneck speed, speed-dial immediacy.....this record is absolutely bursting to tell you all about it. It's like an excited friend returning from some crazy trip, sitting up all night to share their stories & images - and for you to fill them in on what's been going on around town while they've been away - in the pauses. Since time began, messages have been an exciting and vital part of the human experience, from smoke signals to morse code, we've found ways to connect with each other, to deliver the news, good or bad, urgent or trivial. And today, it's easier than ever to transmit our messages. We've got so many formats, it's mind-boggling. There's a real danger and it's often the case, that frequent messaging degenerates into something quite meaningless. When we're drowning in messages from advertising, social media, billboards and buses something usually has to speak to us personally to get our attention. This album manages to do that in twelve lively snapshots which coalesce together to create a buoyant body of work that IS something to grab your attention!

Johnny Marr is the master of the major AND minor chord, he can assume the role of orchestra conductor as comfortably as he can jam with a bunch of street musicians down on the corner - if that's what he feels inclined to do. His enduring, full spectrum career demonstrates his flexibility and refusal to be pigeon-holed by genre, place or time. Yet, something about this record does have the feeling he's come full circle and is re-connecting with various incarnations of himself so he can really pull it all together, to neither disown his past nor glorify it but to simply integrate his many layers and lives of sonic existence. The past is audible in this record, in the music, the production and the delivery but the future is equally inherent in the mix, in the lyrics which grapple with technology, celebrity and identity. The sentiment and the vision look forwards at times, remain neutral at others and nod to history in the same breath, simply acknowledging, never wallowing.

Opening track 'The Right Thing Right' proclaims from the very first chime that this is an upbeat affair. There's an infectious energy that demands you get on your feet, run round the block or at the very least bang your desk if you're trapped in some godforsaken office somewhere. Each track has a definitive semi-abrupt end, a full stop, a message that is sent and received rather than lingering in the ether. Marr has always had an incredible sense of timing and throughout this album you realize that every beat is as intentional as every space between. There's an absolute symmetry and precision to the tracks, even the more jarring and insistent numbers like 'Word Starts Attack'  and 'Upstarts' hit the nail on the head with just enough bangs to make the picture hang. There's nothing superfluous or self-indulgent about this album. It knows where it's going and it arrives on exactly the right frequency...the dial is tuned in perfectly. The sound is sharp and smart. This is perhaps exemplified on title track 'The Messenger 'which despite the intricate nature of the melody possesses a clean crystalline quality, a mystery about both message and messenger, a meandering, intuitive wander that could lead anywhere.

New Town Velocity floats onto our radar like a blue sky after a misty shower. It's a kind of rites of passage number, leaving school, opening up to life and all its possibilities in a world without uniform and rules. There's a beautiful sense of motion in the song and it absolutely demands to be played when out walking or driving - watching the world, seeing the sunshine hit the trees and feeling that dazzle of sun and shadow. It feels impossible for me, at least, to listen to this song and not visualize urban scenes and dreamy motion. 

'Upstarts' the first single to be lifted from the album contains a healthy dose of defiance and anarchy. In fact, the spirit of punk pervades this album. Marr has always maintained a kind of outsider stance. Despite being revered as the legendary guitarist that he is, he is essentially a private person who refuses to toe the line or rest on his laurels. Many will say this album sounds like The Smiths. Here and there it truly does. Some may see this as a happy accident – some as a deliberate decision to return to roots. For me, it’s neither one nor the other. This album demonstrates a man at peace with his past but in love with life and each new day. Music’s always been my favourite medium for messages and there’s a multitude to decipher here. Decode in your dreams, dance without dictionary or diagram!

Review by Mary O'Meara

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