There is something very refreshing about listening to Johnny Marr’s solo material. Despite being one of the most innovative guitarists and songwriters of our time, the former Smiths’ superstar was often praised in the context of his role within one of the most successful partnerships in musical history, rather than as a result of his individual talents. Since going solo, Marr’s two fine releases, 2013’s The Messenger and 2014’s Playland, have very much been a celebration of these talents, namely his profound energy, drive and innovation, and represented a full stylistic break from The Smiths, and Morrissey in particular.
In many respects though, it was Marr’s live performances as a solo artist that have been gathering the most attention, so it comes as no surprise that his latest project, the aptly named Adrenalin Baby, is a showcase of these very skills. Comprising of 17 tracks recorded from shows at Glasgow, Brixton and his home-coming gig in Manchester, the album draws on a wide range of material selected from a highly distinguished career. Purposefully produced and expertly compiled, the album has a nice, calculated flow to it, but always gives the impression that you are listening to a recording of a single live performance.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of Adrenalin Baby though lie in its artistic progression. Marr’s identifiable jangly rock riffs have been transformed to straight up rock n’ roll mega-hooks, while the arrangements of some of his most famous songs have been subtly bended for purpose. Smiths’ classics like ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and ‘How Soon is Now’, are effortlessly revamped while his reimagining of Electronica’s ‘Getting Away With It’ is particularly interesting.
While these tracks certainly add intrigue, the album’s best moments arguably come from the sheer energy of Marr’s more recent recordings. Rousing rock anthems like ‘Easy Money’, ‘The Right Thing Right’ and ‘Back In The Box’, are brilliantly complemented with more stirring slow-burners ’25 hours’ and ‘The Messenger’, a thumping reminder of Marr’s supreme invention.
Unlike many other live releases which are often merely opportune money spinners released at the behest of record companies, Adrenalin Baby is both revelatory, and celebratory of the talents of a great artist who’s now making his bones as a great performer.
Johnny Marr photographed for State by Kieran Frost.