It’s incredible to think that Johnny Marr only released his first solo album ten years ago, after being a musician for over forty years. Having added his gloriously distinctive guitar riffs to so many bands over the years, (enough to fill another compilation album), this double album pulls together a collection of his finest solo work along with two new tunes.

Marr has managed to make each band he’s collaborated with, deliver an album much better than their previous effort.  Prior to the solo career, he was the go-to guitarist for hire enhancing the line ups of Modest Mouse, The Cribs and more. Not that these bands were mediocre before, far from it, but Marr managed to introduce a new angle to the songwriting for each group, whilst carefully not treading on the ties of the existing band member dynamic and musical interplay. It’s as if each collaboration was building the foundations for what would become a brilliant solo career. 

The compilation kicks off with ‘Armatopia’ a single only release from 2019 powered by a disco fuelled groove on which Marr creates a great tapestry of synths, guitars and melodic vocals. From his sublime debut solo album ‘The Messenger’ released in 2013 there’s one of the stand out songs for me, the brilliant ‘New Town Velocity’ with Marr reflecting on the confines of a creatively limiting system with lines such as “leave school for poetry” and “step out to symphonies, they play on for you and me” as the guitar lines weave around the melody. The funk infused guitar riffs are pushed to centre stage for the euphoric tones of ‘Easy Money’ taken from 2014’s ‘Playland’ album. Marr has always professed his love of the Nile Rogers songwriting, even naming his son (also a talented musician, Nile Marr) after the great man so it’s no surprise that scattered throughout his solo work are first-rate funk riffs. Moody spacious guitar tones are abundant in the soaring melodies of ‘Spiral Cities’ from 2018’s brilliant ‘Call The Comet’ album and ‘Walk Into The Sea’ from the same album has a cinematic feel to it, proving that Marr is just at home composing spacious soundtrack inspired songs, as he is writing more rock and soul inspired riffs, and from his most recent album 2022’s ‘Fever Dreams Pts 1-4’ there’s the exuberant track ‘Spirit, Power And Soul’.

The new songs ‘Somewhere’ and ‘The Answer’, both huge sounding tunes, are an added bonus as are several demo versions of tracks such as ‘Hi Hello’. Marr apparently wrote ‘Somewhere’ whilst on tour with The Killers and Blondie after witnessing how huge melodic hooks can fill a stadium, and thinking back to his own love of Motown and the music he listened to growing up in South Manchester.

Marr collaborated with his old mate Maxine Peake in 2017 creating a short film ‘The Priest’ with a great single to accompany it, with vocals from Maxine Peake telling the story of a homeless woman’s survival, it’s chillingly poignant with Marr’s guitar riffs creating an epic backdrop for the narrative. Elsewhere, there’s the full on rock intensity of Marr’s cover of ‘I Feel You’ originally by Depeche Mode, and released for Record Store Day 2015.

Marr manages to combine his love of disco funk with rock in an intriguing way, which never takes the obvious route, yet still manages to result in melodies and riffs which linger happily in the brain as many of these tracks demonstrate.

Following the demise of The Smiths in 1987 Marr always seemed happiest being a guitarist and songwriter in other bands, yet this compilation of Marr’s best solo work and two new tunes shows that his solo career need not have waited so long.

Johnny Marr: Spirit Power The Best Of Johnny Marr – Out Now (BMG Records)

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.