Going solo is rarely a good decision. For every exception to the rule of who flourishes after unburdening themselves of the half-talents that have been holding them back — Justin Timberlake, for one — there are dozens of embarrassing Dee Dee Ramone rap albums that exist because Joey and Johnny Ramone weren't around to kibosh a terrible idea.
Johnny Marr understands this. Upon the dispersal of the Smiths, Marr spent the next 30-plus years joining other bands — Modest Mouse and the Cribs being the two most pertinent from the last decade — in addition to his work since 2000 with the Healers. Meanwhile, Morrissey became one of the exceptions to the "don't go solo" statute until he started coasting on his folkloric persona sometime around 2005. At the moment, he can't sing any songs because his ulcers are too bloody. Get well soon, Moz!
Of course, Marr was doomed to put out a true solo album eventually. It's not so much that there's anything horrendously wrong with The Messenger — a stylishly produced and totally listenable affair. It's that the decisively suave proto-jangle of his guitar work can't compensate for mostly kinda vanilla songwriting. A few tracks crack the ceiling of "meh"-worthiness: the surfy "European Me" is an effective reiteration of the comfort amid dizzying bustle invariably developed by urbanites — that is to say, it's good to listen to while commuting — whereas "Lockdown" spotlights Marr's world-weary yet hopeful vocals. On the downside, lead-off single "Upstarts" skips along with a bothersome pep akin to one of Modest Mouse's crappier tunes while Marr throws down this nugget of hackneyed non-wisdom: "The underground is overground/The overground will pull you down/That's how it goes in these times."
While lukewarm as a whole, The Messenger doesn't suck nearly enough to bruise Marr's status as a guitar deity on wheels. It does inadvertently make a case that he should apologize for whatever he did to piss Morrissey off so they can go on a reunion tour and make krillions of dollars. Or join another band.
JOHNNY MARR :: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: May 4 @ 8pm :: 18+ :: $25 :: 617.562.8800 or thedise.com