Johnny Marr helped redefine the role of guitar in rock music, virtually from his first recorded moments with the Smiths, in 1982. Since then, he has forged his own path through the modern music landscape. Part of his genius is perhaps revealed in the fact that his playing very rarely draws attention to itself. You feel Marr before you hear him. Like U2's the Edge, Marr the guitarist reminds us that it is more noble to serve the song than to serve the ego. Here are a few of his finest recorded moments.
The Smiths, "The Queen Is Dead" (Warner Bros., 1986). The Smiths never made an album that was less than remarkable, but this, the band's third, is perhaps its finest hour. Morrissey is equal parts romantic, pathetic and hilarious, and Marr truly makes him shine with understatedly beautiful guitar arrangements on tunes including "Frankly Mr. Shankly," "Cemetery Gates," "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and the biting title track. A must-have.
The The, "Mind Bomb" (Epic, 1989). Marr's work here is simply brilliant -- the blending of markedly varying guitar tones, the ability to add melodic depth without sacrificing subtlety, the sly, implied funkiness in the phrasing -- all helped make Johnson's songs absolute classics. Listening to this album today is a bit eerie -- Johnson, in 1989, was warning the world that religious fanaticism on all sides was leading rather rapidly toward a world of separate terrorist states in a perpetual state of war.
The The, "Dusk" (Epic, 1993). When Marr teamed with the The mastermind Matt Johnson, he one-upped the work he'd done with the Smiths, though few people may have noticed. "This is my favorite album, aside from 'Boomslang,' " says Marr. And we concur: Johnson's peerless songcraft and Marr's incredibly astute guitar and harmonica parts make such tunes as "Love Is Stronger Than Death," "Slow Emotion Replay" and "Lonely Planet" worthy of the "timeless" mantle.
Johnny Marr and the Healers, "Boomslang" (Artistdirect, 2003). Teaming with erstwhile Who basher and son of Ringo, Zak Starkey, as well as bassist Alonza Bevan, formerly of the sadly overlooked Brit-pop band Kula Shaker, Marr tackles lead vocals for the first time on some of the strongest -- and heaviest -- compositions of his career. Check "Inbetweens," "Caught Up" and "Long Gone" for proof that Marr has retained the mantralike magic of the repeated-motif guitar stylings he helped pioneer and added a new, multihued virtuosity to the quotient.
-- Jeff Miers