Marr’s career will always be like that of Orson Welles: his finest moment is behind him. Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 26, the millstone round Marr’s neck broke up in 1987 when Marr was 24. He’s now 54 and will never be as good as he was for those few years. Lucky for him he’s Johnny Marr: a cool, well-balanced guy and a good guitarist, so he’s always worked, whether it’s with The Healers, the equally cool Modest Mouse (2006–2009) or making the world’s most average band The Cribs sound good (2008–2011).
We always found his solo work a little predictable, a kind of gloomy indie by numbers. His lad Nile Marr is frontman of Man Made and we thought their debut was better than anything Marr Snr had done, while sounding like him. Clearly the old man has spent some time listening to his boy’s band because this third solo album is really good. It’s still got the same Marr sound but it’s just better, and got some youthful energy about it.
The sound is still slightly gloomy, but the band is tight and loud and Marr’s guitar playing sounds good. The lyrics are fairly typical dense rock fare, which can mean whatever you want. A Different Gun was apparently written about the Nice attack of 2016 and was being recorded the night of the Manchester Arena bombing last year, but that’s only obvious if someone tells you: On the airless street / Where they all fall alone is vivid but other parts of the same song are general.
For Smiths fans, Day In Day Out is not far off, with jangly guitar, while Hi Hello is very Smithsy. It’s maybe even about his old, increasingly unhinged, band mate: “I’ll watch you when you’re losing your mind,” he sings, though Marr, being well-adjusted and kind, goes on: “So hi hello / Whatever you need and wherever you go / I can’t say no.”
Whatever: his best solo effort and fine indie/rock album in its own right. Check out Hi Hello or the harder electronic New Dominions.
Out now on New Voodoo. Check out Man Made’s 2016 album Television Broke My Brain (Soul Kitchen 2) while you’re at it.