After over two decades of collaborations with everyone from The The to the Cribs, Johnny Marr's first solo album proper (2003's Boomslang, fronting the Healers, shouldn't count) finally edges back towards his Smiths vintage guitar playing. Trademark cascading hooks abound in The Right Thing Right and Lockdown, while European Me again reprises the Elvis riff he once remodelled for Rusholme Ruffians. There's a different energy in the likes of Upstarts – the prickly pop power of Mancunian predecessors Buzzcocks – and more typical Marr tunesmithery in the excellent Electronic-esque title track. For a legendary guitarist, he makes a perfectly amenable singer, though it's hard not to occasionally imagine how some tunes would have sounded with Morrissey's voice and words. Marr's lyrics about technology and the underground miss his ex-partner's personal, emotional wallop. When Marr does delve into himself – romantically remembering childhood liberation on New Town Velocity – he turns in his loveliest riff in years and a song up there with anything in his canon. Elsewhere, The Messenger falls some way short of greatness, but is full of enjoyably spiky tunes.
Dave Simpson is a Guardian music critic and author