Unlike Johnny Marr’s 2003 album, which was credited to the former Smiths guitarist and The Healers, his new record, “The Messenger,” bears just his name, marking a bona fide solo debut in more ways than title. From the opening power chord, through wiry garage rock, pretty jangle pop, and a touch of terse psychedelia, Marr is the guy at the front, not to the side, because his singing is equally expressive.
“There’s got to be some benefits to getting older and one of them is knowing yourself better and being OK with that. Not that I ever had a problem with who I was, except if I acted like a dick,” Marr laughs. “Where that’s affected the new record is that I know what I’m interested in singing about and that’s very handy when you’re fronting a group.”
Before he set about making “The Messenger,” Marr knew he had to take his song ideas “home” and record in his native Manchester, England; not Portland, Oregon where he’s lived since 2005.
“I had an intuition that it would be good for the music. I didn’t have a solid concept about representing Blighty. It’s in no way nostalgic, god forbid,” he scoffs. “But in the back of my mind there was an attitude that I wanted to reconnect with – I guess, I always carried it with me. But I wanted to be where I first developed that attitude.”
Even since the demise of The Smiths in the late 1980s, Marr’s role was as producer or band member and, over the last decade, he joined both Modest Mouse and The Cribs.
“I was firmly committed to being in both; I don’t know any other way of doing it properly. But, I’ve gone into doing this record with a sense of my audience. That wasn’t the case when I made The Healers record. Now, it’s more about the relationship not between me and the guys in the band, but me and my audience.”
So, that elephant in the room...
Last year, the ever-present Smiths reunion rumors pinned hopes on a reformation at Coachella 2013. Given that Marr has made such a strong solo album, it’s rude to even broach the subject. But, duty bound, we ask whether a reunion is a possibility. His feathers obviously ruffled by the subject, Marr answers tersely: “Impossible!”