Johnny Marr will forever be known as TheGuitarist for The Smiths no matter what he does but everything about The Messenger feels so right, from the sound to the sequencing. It's easy to imagine these shimmering riffs, melodies, and music beds he would hand over to Morrissey if The Smiths still made records. It's intriguing to imagine where Moz would take have taken these songs but Marr's own sense of direction is impeccable and he proves a more than capable vocalist and lyricist. The record is so good it makes you wonder what took him so long to finally make it.
Marr is a premier stylist and is free to paint with his own distinct sounds. He isn't a guitar god in the conventional sense, eschewing gaudy solos for a textured tapestry constructed by layering tracks in a special way. He doesn't speak in solos, he speaks in sounds that create a rich journey into the anthemic heart of Britpop. His lyrics may not be on par with his former songwriting partner but are evocative and effective enough to make these songs work.
"The Right Thing Right" is an emphatic opening salvo with a martial beat and pounding riff. Most of the best moments are in the midtempo range, particularly "European Me" and "Lockdown." They're brilliant slices of guitar-pop that jangle and ring with gentle clarity and conviction while the title track and "Generate! Generate!" have subtle underpinnings of Eurotrash danceability yet remain rock and roll. "Say Demesne" slows the tempo and keyboard accents give the verses a dirge-like quality and the chorus a searching feeling.
"New Town Velocity" is the stunning highlight on an album filled with great moments. The person in this song is in transition, looking through his windshield to what lies ahead but with his past still visible in the rearview mirror. Is the narrator talking to a specific someone or the universe at large? The evoked imagery make it seem like it's both, that he's leaving someone behind and in the process, the life that went with it. It's tempting to make it a song about the end of The Smiths (doubtful) but not filling in the blanks allows us to slip inside the eye of the mind in the song. It's a minor masterpiece and that's true of the album as a whole.
The Messenger is the first indispensable listen of 2013.