Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – guitarist from an adored band that is still immensely popular 25 years after the breakup releases solo record. You might think I’m talking about the exploits of Slash from Guns n’ Roses, but I’m not – I’m talking about Johnny Marr who first made his mark with The Smiths. The last thing I want to do is recount an epic play-by-play of Marr’s departure from The Smiths – there are plenty of other reviews / articles out there that’ll paint a vulgar picture. His exploits post The Smiths have for the most part been fairly amazing depending on who you speak to (bands include The The, Marion, Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs). Personally? I like just about anything that has Johnny Marr’s distinctive guitar work and songwriting.
Johnny Marr recently released his “first” solo record, The Messenger to mostly positive reviews and an entry on the UK charts (for some reason the 2003 release by Johnny Marr & The Healers doesn’t count). I really enjoyed the entire record and think it is a highlight of 2013 so far – a post-punk influence permeates the record tempered with stunning moments of clarity. I wondered if Johnny Marr would continue the tradition that The Smiths made famous (and that Oasis continued in the mid 90’s) – releasing a single but tucking a gem away on the b-side. I’m pleased to say that Marr has released a top-notch single with a backing track that is at least the equal of the single (and I prefer it to some of the songs on the album).
the underground is overground (single breakdown)
As a single, “Upstarts” is the perfect song to follow-up 1st single, “The Messenger”. Where the 1st single announced the return of Johnny Marr with his trademark guitar playing and an upbeat chorus, this song has a much tougher approach. Marr sings like a true mod with a musical backing that evokes the 60’s married to a slight Buzzcocks influence (is that redundant I wonder). The song shifts into a catchy groove before coming back to the verse / chorus structure. Perfection. Key lyrics: “It’s how it goes in these times / How we know it’s in our eyes / Upstarts now are on their way / Upstarts now have to pay”
“Psychic Beginner” is cut from the classic b-side mold. Marr’s vocals are dreamy, evoking nostalgia and emotion with every nuanced pronunciation of the words. The music bears traces of the band Marr made his name with but would be equally impressive if you didn’t know any of his back story. The repeated use of the phrase “This used to be my home” throughout the song provides emotional context – this is simply a perfect song.
2013 is shaping up to be a wonderful year for music (I probably say this every year). If you are on the fence about picking up The Messenger by Johnny Marr, buy this single as a taster for what awaits you. If you bought the full length but are unsure whether you really need the b-side – the answer is a resounding yes. Make yourself a Johnny Marr 2013 mix including the b-side and you’ve got everything now.
Verdict: Sound of Marr