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Monday, 25 February 2013

Johnny Marr - The Messenger. Wish he'd sent a telegram

Its been an interesting few weeks, finding lots of exciting unsigned bands. Stay reading over the next few weeks (and hopefully a lot longer) and we will certainly introduce you to some of them.

Today though, Im going to attempt to bring together a wide range of confused thoughts. Boyish excitement, trepidation, memories of long time companion, and a fear of what might be different (suppose thats trepidation LOL)

Anyway. This Indie Dunes instalment isn't about an unsigned band. Could possibly be closest to the brief I was given at the start of Indie Dunes. "Steve, just write about old stuff, that would be great". Well I think that was a rouse, one I'm quite happy to be blindsided on. But none the less a swindle.

My musical hero releases a new album in a couple days and I've been contemplating this post for a long time. I wasn't going to write it, then i was, on/off again relationship similar to a peaceful middle east solution. Lots of meandering thoughts and inward contemplation of those meanderings "Would anybody actually want to read it." That was until my good friend @Glenmish posted a link to an NME Song story on Twitter. Then it didn't matter, I had to write it for my own good and you must suffer it until you get bored ;o)

Even now I'm resolute to write this post I find myself fighting and struggling over each word. You can't write about someone that musical is a God to me and just waffle (yes this is me not waffling by waffling). I'm not even sure I can legitimately claim him to be my hero. I have no musical ability whatsoever, I cannot to begin to comprehend the thought process behind creating the songs he wrote. Even after watching the link from NME, I still have no idea, and strangely enough, I don't think he did, it just popped into his head. He has the talent to play, unfortunately I do not and although imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I don't think copyright lawyers would take that as a legitimate argument. Guitar in my hand, Id find my copying his tunes

He wrote in such a way that connected so deeply to me. Even sitting here now, in my lunch break listening to his most celebrated work, I am welling up with emotion, because these tunes mean so very very much. That's one of a powerful gift.

For anyone not aware I am a Smiths fanatic. One may assume that means Morrissey is my almighty music God, however it is the man that split the Smiths up that I hold up so high.

So yes, trepidation is the prefect way to describe the release of Johnny Marr and his "The Messenger" album on the 25th February It's been 13 years since Boomslang was released. Johnny's, first foray into being the front man in a band (The Healers). 13 years since feeling less than satisfied and wondering what the hell. Obviously the musical landscape has changed a little bit since then and Mr Marr hasn't sat around idle. He has spread his wings wide and been part of the change, playing and helping craft the tracks of bands such as Modest Mouse and The Cribs.

The Smiths to me were the prefect band. Even through the personality conflicts and politics that engulfed them, the craft of writing a prefect song shone through. Each part magnificently blended into the other, yet told its own story. Andy's bass-lines are a prefect example of this. Morrissey was perfection as the front man, with the emotive lyrics and a cynical personality. But the voice that always connected to my heart was the melody and beautiful tune being created from strings and fingers.

Three of my most loved Smiths songs were written off by Moz because he felt he neither could write lyrics for them or weren't good enough. These tracks were Oscillate Wildly, the Draize Train and the tune that launched Bryan Ferry BĂȘte Noire album. The Right Stuff was a huge track but it was the Smiths Money Changes Everything originally.

Anyway I could waffle about the Smiths forever and one day I might. But I'll give you sufficient warning when it is nearing. Signing off for now.

Release day arrives.

I first heard about the impending release of THE MESSENGER late last year. But rumours were floating around most of 2012. There was an amazing rush of excitement when I heard the release date. Then that flood of fear happened. What if it tarnishes everything I hold dear. I held off listening to the title track and first single for days. Like a little kid peaking at a scary scene though his fingers spread wide across his eyes.

Now the album has been released, I still am peaking out from behind my protective screen. Trouble is I wish I didn't have to. I feel exposed, even behind it. It's hard to write about the castle walls crumbling down around your hero. My first listen was memorable for all the wrong listens. Firstly I was hanging out laundry, so rock n roll blogger lifestyle innit'. Having to sit down to take in the my horror. By track 4 I had messaged Fishy claiming "I don't think Ive cringed so much listening to an album for a long time"

From the opening cords you know you are in for the rockier side of Johnny's playing. From the 'get go' something is missing. Took me a few listens to work it out (yes Ive had to listen a number of times, dedication huh) It might be me wearing my ultra Smiths teeshirt and badges. But the rhythm section is just totally vacant. They add nothing to the tune. Then the singing" starts. My first reaction is REALLY SURELY NOT. The lyrics are quite juvenile and then a "wooooo" slips out from Johnny's lips. That's when I had to sit down (plus I hate pegging and pairing socks)

Johnny singing reminds me in places of Bono. No tune!!  But then I think. "This ever stopped Bono, so why am I being so critical". But to be honest, it's hard not to be.

I'm not going to give a blow by blow description of the downfall of my hero But there are a few moments worth sharing

But the second track is a humorous story (for me anyway). Starts off with a Muse sounding riff but then the singing kicking in <Rolls eyes>. I didn't catch the name of the track. It would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.

I'm sitting there looking at the half full basket of laundry puzzled at Mr Marr singing about pointy nipples "I want the high-beam" Scratching my head thinking "Interesting way of describing a way of turning someone on". This could possibly be the residual effect of my adventures into writing poems in the style known as "misinterpreted everyday events" and it could rival "born to be a lion". But I digress, thankfully it was "I want the heartbeat" such an easy mistake.

After multiple listens the title track "The Messenger" isn't a bad track, it's listenable and semi enjoyable. I really like the music in New Town Velocity, it's got a similar sound to the days of Electronic. I just wish Bernie was singing.

This is an extremely difficult album for me to listen to. It's impossible for me not to compare it to previous releases not just from The Smiths, but also Electronic, even Marrs work with Matt Johnson in The The. That might be a flaw on my behalf. But it's an honest assessment. The man can obviously write guitar music.

Reading some of Marrs statements in the press, he has said (paraphrasing now) "I want it to seem effortless, for my old fans" Well it does seem effortless Johnny, you know your craft, but this it smells of Also, he states "I have written songs in the past with others peoples voice in mind", be it Ryan from Cribs, Isaac (Modest Mouse), Bernie, Matt or Moz. Distinctive talented singers in their field. Unfortunately The Messenger is written with his voice in mind, they are weak, like his singing and lyrical prowess

If you are a young new person starting to delve into the world of music, beginning to read music publications, expanding your field of vision in a musical sense. You are going to see Johnny Marr "God" status plastered all over NME and the internet blogs. You might then seek out The Messenger and think "REALLY". This album is not an accurate reflection of Johnny Marrs undoubted standing as a guitar God. In the other reviews I've read about "The Messenger" I hear them lauding Johnnys guitar skills, these are in there, smart cleverly placed riffs and licks. But its all hidden behind what is obviously wrong for much of the album.

I can't recommend this album but everyone must make their own mind up. Music and what you want and need  from a song are all totally subjective.

I'm a huge Marr fan. I said at the beginning of this post "I didn't want anything to tarnish my hero or my feelings" and I can say in all honesty it hasn't but I'm disappointed. I've listened to lots of "The Smiths", "Electronic" and "The The" today and every riff, chord and finally track brought back that feeling of security and being home with my mates.
Because Johnny has "Godlike" status it seems to me that people are afriad to say its a dodgy album. And it is a dodgy album, in my eyes. This is not JM first attempt at it. It was "Johnny Marr and The Healers" this seems to be forgotten even by JM. Boomslang was a disappointment, after discussions with a good friend he pointed out that Marr has also needed collaboration for his music. The release of both his "Solo" projects show what his subconscious has probably been telling him. You are the main man, not the front man. 

If I can add an insightful comment from my 8 yr old daughter, she was listening to the album while I typed away. "That sounds terrible Dad, but I guess someone might like it" She obviously doesn't have my flare for waffle. From the mouths of children generally comes honesty.

This has been a hard post for me to write. But what I find myself thinking is a very positive and encouraging thought. Maybe it's just a new perspective I've started observing the musical landscape with. There is so much raw untapped talent out there ATM. It's like a volcano ready to erupt. Do we need an effortless/easy albums for dedicated fans? Or do we want to be excited and re-energised to buy a disc or download from something new and fresh

Maybe it's time for the legends to start mentoring and producing these fledging bands instead of putting themselves out in the firing line with a lot to lose.


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