Johnny Marr was once half of Manchester, England’s The Smiths, who, in their heyday, drove single after single up the UK pop charts while also gathering North America’s uncanny adulation.
Their debut album took the UK press by the hand and forged a love affair with lead singer Morrissey—an eccentric in all things. Maudlin, obsessive, an asexual poet weaned on The New York Dolls and Oscar Wilde and in the clothes of a religious figure.
Marr, a consummate guitarist in his early 20s, an outsider with style to spare, guitar lines that wound around each melody with spacious fragility and room for Morrissey’s anti-world brand—his misery’s company—so crucial to the fans who'd dress like him and wish to be him. The music, an effigy of the duo's own silence and brooding kinship.
Johnny Marr cemented his contribution to Rock 'n' Roll on their genuine tremolo-driven hit ‘How Soon is Now"—a hard-hitting single with hooks so fresh that even skeptics would give Marr his due.
The yin-and-yang of angst personified, Marr and Morrissey found their breaking point in '87 and Marr left the band for good. Having carved a niche for Oasis, The Stone Roses, and others, Manchester would mourn and revere them.
Marr quickly threw himself into a range of eclectic projects, lending his style to many, including The Pet Shop Boys, The The, Billy Bragg, and Tom Jones. With his first two solo records, The Messenger in 2013 and Playland in ’14, he took over the vocal chores for the first time. He was not that brave new voice knocking down doors but something more akin to ‘Television’’s Richard Lloyd or any number of musicians who took the spotlight with reluctance, yet gave all that they had to their craft. Marr’s hard work paid off, especially in Europe.
His songs draw from the well of Britain’s literate sense of place, class lines and thematic jewels of her Majesty’s empire—rich in both—its irrelevance to modern generations and the traditional fascination with its own power, betrayal and failings of the royal flesh.
On The Messenger album, the song "New Town Velocity" opens with a wall of acoustic chords followed by textured sonic lines, and Marr crooning verses and choruses where "symphonies play for you and me," all backed by big bold strokes on his fender Tele and it all works like a five-minute wide-open dream.
Johnny Marr, a true practitioner of the guitar, running deep in a catalog of symphonic, immediate and transcendent sound—when he lays hands on his instrument, those who will listen, may be healed.