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Saturday 20 September 2014

The message from a vintage guitar hero

Published 22/02/2013 | 18:00

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Johnny Marr said he was honoured to be named NME's Godlike Genius 2013
Johnny Marr said he was honoured to be named NME's Godlike Genius 2013

Big album release of the week Johnny Marr The Messenger (Warner Bros)

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On Wednesday, Johnny Marr is set to receive the NME's Godlike Genius Award – the gong the ailing magazine doles out for lifetime achievement. If anyone is deserving of such an accolade, it's him – risible title excused.

One would hope the Mancunian has plenty more years left in him to show the kids why, in the right hands, the guitar remains rock's most prized instrument.

His wonderfully virtuosic and inventive playing was just as instrumental as Morrissey's gloriously jaundiced world-view for making The Smiths the great British band of the 1980s.

And, since their acrimonious split in 1987, he has sprinkled gold-dust on collaborations both inspired (Modest Mouse) and insipid (The Cribs: a best-of collection is out this week and it's pretty pedestrian, despite Marr's best efforts).

Remarkably, more than 30 years after first coming to prominence and after a decade with his band The Healers, this is Marr's debut solo album. And – just as you would expect – guitars are the fore on practically every song.

He has talked about being inspired by the New Wave bands, whose gigs he snuck into while still a young teen, and there is something of that era's pop-oriented immediacy here.

These are songs that leap from the speakers from the off; there's little deep or challenging about them.

Lockdown is typical of the fat-free fare. Eminently radio friendly, it's the sort of visceral anthem that's been missing from the Oasis canon for more than a decade. The title track, meanwhile, appears machine-tooled for the arena circuit. Elsewhere, much of the material is redolent of Britpop.

But there are notable problems. Marr is not the best vocalist in the world – and he's not the most inventive lyricist either. It wasn't – one imagines – just Morrissey's ego which insured that The Smiths only had one singer.

Much more disappointing, though, is the sense that the preeminent guitarist of his generation is playing it safe.

Where is the wonderfully creative guitar work that would have six-string enthusiasts salivating? There are flashes of it here and there, but nothing that comes anywhere near the majesty of, say, How Soon Is Now?

KEY TRACKS Lockdown; The Messenger

Irish Independent

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