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marr the merrier as johnny heads for leopardstown

As one of the greatest guitarists ever to grace a stage or recording studio, Johnny Marr (inset) truly is a special talent. His graceful playing has adorned three albums with New Order's Bernard Sumner, as Electronic, in addition to spots with Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys, Bryan Ferry, Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, Beck, Oasis, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. An impressive CV by anyone's standards.

Although an active member of the music business since 1982, it was only last year that he released his first official solo album (the least said about The Healers the better) in the shape of The Messenger, and a fine effort it was too. Gorgeous melodies, playing as sparkling and inventive as you'd expect and some pretty serviceable lyrics were all in evidence, but you could never escape the feeling that something was missing. On several occasions an 
effortless-sounding Marr intro would chime out, but when the vocals came in there was a sense of anti-climax. Nothing wrong with Marr's singing, it has to be said, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking, "Ah, why couldn't Morrissey swoop in there?" Really, there was no getting away from it.

That imperial period of The Smiths between their first single Hand in Glove in 1983 and the understated despair of their final album Strangeways, Here We Come in 1987 saw the band as easily the finest of their generation, with Morrissey and Marr one of rock music's essential and defining songwriting teams. The light was simply flowing out of the pair of them, with an almost telepathic link forming between Morrissey's literate and witty outsider observations and Marr's innate sense of classic pop melodicism.

Even a cursory glance at any Smiths biog will quickly reveal that they must have been a nightmare to work with - which certainly impacted on Marr the heavier - but despite the rancour and the court cases, they've adamantly refused lucrative offers to reform. Even aside from the money, two such smart men must surely know that they've artistically under-achieved by staying apart. Morrissey's latest solo album, World Peace is None of Your Business, is a frustrating affair, with overly indulgent lyrics plonked on top of tunes which seem forced and cursory.

As Morrissey wrote of their relationship in his marvellous Autobiography: "It is a matter of finding yourself in possession of the one vital facet that the other lacks, but needs." Guys, get a room.

Johnny Marr plays Bulmer's Live at Leopardstown on Thursday.

> GEORGE BYRNE


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