November 29, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

UMass looks ahead to 2015, for better or for worse -

Friday, November 28, 2014

UMass football falls 41-21 in season finale against Buffalo -

Friday, November 28, 2014

Minutemen defense comes up short in 41-21 loss to Buffalo -

Friday, November 28, 2014

UMass formally cuts ties with alumnus Bill Cosby -

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stanley Andre reflects on his career as Senior Day approaches -

Thursday, November 27, 2014

UMass tight end Jean Sifrin mulls future, potential NFL career -

Thursday, November 27, 2014

UMass basketball trounces Northeastern 79-54 -

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Students and staff discuss racial and social inequality following Ferguson decision -

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UMass hockey falls to Vermont, 3-1 -

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No indictment for Ferguson cop -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chancellor addresses campus regarding grand jury decision in death of Michael Brown -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Northern Illinois hangs on against Ohio, Hunt carries Toledo to victory -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SGA passes 10 motions at meeting Monday night -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Students and UMPD work together during the annual ‘Walk for Light’ -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

‘Conscious Consumer’ talk promotes business sustainability -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass hockey looks to rebound against Vermont following Saturday’s blowout at home -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass women’s soccer’s Sverrisdóttir balances a soccer career between two different countries -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

‘First Demo’ provides a fascinating glimpse of Fugazi in its infancy -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My mental illness does define me (to an extent) -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to master multitasking -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Johnny Marr’s “The Messenger” Review

Flickr/ManAlive!

This past month, guitar hero Johnny Marr received NME magazine’s “Godlike Genius Award” for his long and distinguished career with artists such as The Pretenders,  Modest Mouse, The Cribs, Billy Bragg, Electronic, The Healers and, most importantly, as a key component of the eternally popular ’80s indie band The Smiths. On paper Marr’s career would appear to be a glittering success, yet on closer inspection he has left a lot to be desired.

 It’s safe to say that ever since The Smiths disbanded in 1987, Marr has struggled to find his best form in his various endeavours. His collaboration with Morrissey was certainly the most fruitful of his career, for not only him but also the controversial singer, as they created classic tracks like “This Charming Man,” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

So, at the ripe old age of 49, Marr has finally decided to release his debut solo album “The Messenger.” Taking influence from his hometown of Manchester, and his separation from it, Marr had the intention of filling the gap in the market for an album of “artful British guitar pop with hooks that would be exciting played live in little clubs,” he told Mojo magazine in October of last year. The album is also loosely set to the “romantic notion” of Marr leaving school to set out on his ambitious path to musical stardom, along with the feelings and beliefs he carried through that period.

Drawing inspiration from his teenage influences of Roxy Music, Sparks and T-Rex as well as his Mancunian contemporaries in electronic dance pioneers New Order and punk rockers The Buzzcocks, Marr aimed to use all his resources to create his solo masterpiece. Elements of Marr’s musical past are found scattered throughout the album, cleverly interwoven with his predictably brilliant guitar playing. For the discerning music fan the album will be a treat to dissect each songs influence from Marr’s musical catalogue.

The explicit raw ambition that accompanied the ’70s punk movement is evident on the record in the tracks “I Want the Heartbeat” “Lockdown” and “Generate Generate.” “Generate Generate” is layered with frenetic guitars and heavy drum beats that complement Marr’s short frantic lyrical delivery: “Sensations versus thinking/An equation all good for nothing/same old song, what’s going on?/Calculate, calculate, calculate.”

Although Marr’s punk influences are certainly evident throughout, the biggest comparable musical style stems from the much more developed, controlled and expansive styles of music found in the following post-punk era. The northern soul -inspired opening track “The Right Thing Right” is a blistering start to the album, with echoes of Marr’s former group The Cribs in its melodic, memorable hook making it one of the stand out tracks. Title track “The Messenger” is a soulful powerhouse akin to The Stone Roses and Charlatans in their psychedelic heyday. An empathic minute-long guitar solo in the middle showcases Marr’s renowned playing at its absolute best.

Along with the plethora of inspiration Marr has drawn upon, it will be a pleasant surprise to his fans to hear his trademark “jingly jangly” melodies from The Smiths make a welcome return on his signature Fender Jaguar guitar. Marr admitted to the Guardian, “In the past, I’d have shredded it (Smith’s sound) because it sounded too much like me,” but on “The Messenger” he has embraced his former self, saying, “it just felt so sweet and so genuine, it seemed important to just go with it.” This guitar style is most prominent on “European Me,” where Marr uses an explicitly similar riff to The Smiths track “Rusholme Ruffians.” Also, the penultimate song “New Town Velocity” would have fit right at home on “The Smiths” back-catalogue as well as being one of the lyrically stronger efforts, recounting his move away from home and school in a rare autobiographical insight. 

One of the key questions before the album’s release was whether or not Marr could make the transition from music-making wingman to center stage lead vocalist. Sadly it doesn’t quite work out. Musically the album is extremely good, bar the lackluster “Word Starts Attack,” but it’s let down by Marr’s underwhelming vocal performance. Too often Marr’s voice fails to stand out or add the gravity needed to the well-crafted musical foundations to propel a majority of the tracks to become something special.

It was once said that New Order wrote lyrics by passing a piece of paper around the group for each member to write one line, and at points on “The Messenger” the lyrics seem equally random in construction. Verses like: “To see it in something/ Life you want it takes long/To see him so happy, you find you talking if you want/ Don’t wanna be a messenger” struggle to convey meaningful or  memorable purpose making the biggest irony of the album the fact that Marr doesn’t have a message to convey in his lyrics.

Marr’s long awaited solo album is an enjoyable voyage through the journeyman’s extensive career, with a brilliant post-punk flair running throughout the music and guitar solos galore. It is a nostalgic record, hovering between the post-punk ’80s and the guitar-centric Britpop England of the ’90s in its style, which makes for a wonderful look at Marr’s influences. Marr’s brilliantly crafted guitar riffs are crying out for a strong, purposeful frontman who can lyrically charge each song with something special, yet sadly that isn’t Marr. One can only wonder if he knows a charming man to fill the void…

Jonathan Smith can be reached at jnsmi0@student.umass.edu.

 

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