From The Smiths to The Cribs and everything in-between, chameleonic guitarist-turned-frontman Johnny Marr has had a long and eclectic career, but until now, has never been front and centre.
Adrenalin Baby is his first live album, and loud and live it certainly is. The Messenger (2013) and last year’s Playland form the bulk of the record, and are flanked by some long awaited Smiths gems. Recorded at shows in Glasgow, Brixton and his hometown of Manchester over the last couple of years, the album is a bonus addition to the late-career renaissance the sharp-witted Mancunian is deservedly having.
Opening with arcade game effects and a buzzing crowd hum, the album kicks off with ‘Playland’ – the punchy title track of his most recent rollicking rock effort. Marr’s lengthy melodic riff and fan screams hint at his stage arrival before his echoey vocals cut in. His sultry screams “she does the real buzz, he does the real buzz” take flight.
“This next song goes exactly like this” modernity obsessed Marr bellows as the band rip into repetitive cracker ‘Easy Money’. The soaring pickings of ‘25 Hours’ bleed out into ‘New Town Velocity’. A spontaneous dedication to his many young fans, he adds in his distinctive Northern drawl “this next song is for anyone who’s at school, anyone who ever went to school or anyone who still feels like they’re at school”. The dainty, plucky chords translate exquisitely live, setting an ethereal (and briefly autobiographical) tone.
The crowd roars with the familiar jangly opening of Meat Is Murder’s ‘The Headmaster Ritual’. Marr does his best Morrissey impression, but is well and truly in his comfort zone with the bass-y guitar parts. ‘The Messenger’ has a confidently slurring 90s stride while ‘Back In The Box’ stutters with awesome 80s urgency and seducing synth. The permanent band – James Doviak (keyboards), Iwan Gronow (bass) & Jack Mitchell (drums) – provide falsetto backing vocals, and although they are a little weak, they help to lift Marr’s call-to-arms chorus.
‘Generate! Generate!’ sets a proper fist-pumping mood with its punchy, masculine verses. Marr blows the dust off ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, and by the audience’s reaction, it’s a highly anticipated and long awaited outing. His husky and manly interpretation suits the break-neck speed of the classic anarchy anthem, and instrumentally, his version is faithful. The song hasn’t diminished or lost relevance over time (“that’s a good one” Marr adds, feeling the same way).
New single ‘Candidate’ is album-perfect and prettily poignant live. Electronic (the duo Marr formed with New Order’s Bernard Sunmer in 1988) gets a moment in the sun with fan worshipped first single ‘Getting Away With It’. The opening base-line gets an accompanying crowd clap-along. “Riff!” Marr shouts rather hilariously, cueing his own start.
The crowd erupts at the mere first note of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, and you can hear the smile in Marr’s voice as he nails the first line. The audience join in enthusiastically in the well-loved refrain “And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten-tonne truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure the privilege is mine.” You can just imagine the swaying arms during every, even more excited, chorus sing-along. Marr’s voice fades out and the crowd sing alone, and the pleasure, the privilege, is his. “Great job Manchester, thank-you very much my darlings”. Just beautiful.
Marr allows his choc-a-block set one gnarly cover, The Clash’s popularised anthem ‘I Fought The Law’. The bends and accentuated notes of the opening riff are stunning as his chaotic croon interrupts. Having seen Marr live this year, it’s fun knowing the punchy little solos in the song come with cheeky poses and winks. Shame Adrenalin Baby doesn’t come with a DVD just yet. The set ends on a blinder – The Smith’s swampy 1985 masterpiece, ‘How Soon Is Now?’. The reverb heavy penetrating slide notes fill the speakers as Marr croons Morrissey’s cryptic lyrics into the microphone.
It’s full steam ahead for 51-year-old Johnny Marr. Tours up and down the UK and Ireland solo, with The Who, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, as well as an album and book in the works for next year. This live album is just an energetic drop in the ocean, but an awesome one at that. Marr is a bona fide solo artist, and running on adrenalin, baby.
Adrenalin Baby is out now digitally through New Voodoo / Warner Music Group.
CD and vinyl will be made available soon.