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Johnny Marr, best and most fondly remembered as the guitarist and co-writer for The Smiths, has mounted somewhat of a comeback over the last few years, with two solo albums both well received by critics and fans alike. Adrenalin Baby is somewhat different, being a live album recorded from Marr’s tour and including hits from The Smiths’ back catalogue as well as his own and even featuring a cover of The Clash’s famous song I Fought The Law,but the real question is: how well does it hold up?
The answer is surprisingly well, as a confusingly long barrage of noise at the start of Playlandsoon gives way to a punchy sound that blends Marr’s considerable talent on the guitar with surprisingly slick vocals reminiscent of a pumped up and slightly more in tune Noel Gallagher, although that could be just be due to the Mancunian connection between the two. Between songs the crowd are enthusiastic and the man himself offers a few choice phrases but this crowd noise is only present between numbers and is not allowed to interfere with the songs themselves, meaning you never feel like you have to fight through the cheers to get at the music, an annoyance that many live albums suffer from.
Marr’s performance on Smiths classics like Bigmouth Strikes Again and There is a Light That Never Goes Out is equally good, with Marr’s guitar being as inimitable and brilliant as ever and his vocals doing a surprisingly good job of fitting the song without devolving into a poor man’s Morrissey karaoke set, something that is easily done (it’s also nice to be able to hear the lyrics that often get lost in Morrissey’s trademark warble). The Post-Smiths offerings are in places just as good and Adrenalin Baby plays like something of a greatest hits for a man that has been active in the industry for so long and has often been unfairly overlooked. Whilst waiting for the first song by The Smiths you realise that Johnny Marr’s made some damned good songs (listen to New Town Velocity and you’ll see what I mean) and many of them may have passed you by, I know they did me.
Overall Adrenalin Baby is a great introduction to Johnny Marr’s solo career and just goes to show that even if he doesn’t make the headlines as much as Morrissey, and may not have the same rabid fan base, he’s still a hell of a musician and a pleasure to listen to. From somebody that has seen Marr live I can also attest to the fact that the crowd reaction in this album isn’t at all staged, he really is that good live and I’d recommend both his live set and this live album to anyone.
(Originally published in The Spark*)