The title of Johnny Marr’s debut solo album turns out to be a head fake in more ways than one. Due out on February 26, 2013, The Messenger might yet be a prophetic statement from the founding Smiths guitarist, who more recently has been sitting in with the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Modest Mouse. But the geometrically precise title track and its color-drained new video are studiously ambiguous on the masterful sideman’s intentions as he steps out on his own.
Where the Stone Roses wanted to be adored, or the Smiths’ Morrissey declared he was the son and the heir (albeit “to nothing in particular”), Marr announces here, in a slightly Liam Gallagher-like coo, that he doesn’t “want to be the messenger.” This newly christened frontman is, well, no cocksure frontman. And yet the downcast, bass-stabbed post-punk backing carries messianic qualities known to Joy Division, U2, or Interpol. And Marr’s ramble through the shadowy black-and-white countryside, in which he’s occasionally shown in double, has all the makings of a classic pilgrimage.
It doesn’t take long here before Marr is repeating, “Who wants to be the messenger?,” in the form of a question. Then he’s delegating the content to his chosen instrument of communication, the guitar, with a sharply flickering, effects-encircled solo. When he claps a few times, at a climactic moment, it might be because the messenger has spoken. Eloquently enigmatic.