A Charming Man, really… Johnny Marr’s “Set The Boy Free” autobiography

Johnny Marr recently published his long-expected autobiography and the least I could say is that I was eager to read it. More precisely, I really wanted to get his side of the story in regards to the excellent and funny book written by Morrissey, his partner in seminal band The Smiths. So how good is it? Verdict below

Image result for set the boy free

In terms of style, I guess Johnny Marr’s writing is probably the opposite of how Morrissey wrote his book: straight to the point, no bullshit and the story written factually as things occurred, no more, no less. It probably means this is not the kind of book one would read if one does not have any interest at all in British music from the 80’s and 90’s as the real jewel of the book is the story and the anecdotes, rather than the style. For instance, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” would be different as one not interested in music could find great reward in reading that book and its values.

On the other side, for those who grew during this period and would like to know more about what happened behind the scenes, this is a fantastic book. For French guys not necessarily at ease with reading books in English, this is the one for you as I cannot see you getting any difficulties in understanding it all. Not the way I would describe Morrissey’s book for instance…

Johnny Marr, Rock en Seine 2013 (4)

So what do we learn?

  • Confirmation that the Smiths broke up for no real reason apart probably from the fact they did not have any proper manager and that Johnny Marr was fed up to do it all by himself
  • Johnny Marr is really a good guy for whom friendship and solidarity are not concepts. Description of his pact with The The’s Matt Johnson or the way he helped Oasis‘ Noel Gallagher by giving him his own guitars are a must to read. I have read also in detail all the pages where he writes about Morrissey and it is amazing how he keeps on saying nice things about his former partner
  • Johnny Marr is first and foremost a musician, like Bernard Butler for instance. It means that sometimes you lead great bands, that sometimes you are privileged to play with the greats like Keith Richards or Paul McCartney and that sometimes you collaborate on other bands’ projects…and that’s it really
  • Guys who run are great but those you know me already knew that
  • Nothing beats summer holidays in Wales near the beach
  • Oasis’ Liam Gallagher real nickname is Mr. Fish!
  • An amazing event occurred in September 2008
  • Quote of the book when Johnny Marr was interviewed after Michael Jackon’s death about what were “Thriller”‘s favourite songs of his: ” I didn’t like “Thriller”, I was in The Smiths

2014 Top 15 records

Here we are again… Another year behind us and our recurrent review of the past year and its best records. 2014 was quite a weird year as I felt the overall quality and choice of music was amazing and diverse but at the same time there were not the few killer LP’s that one will remember in 20 or 30 years’ time (hello Kanye West, Daft Punk or Nick Cave in the previous years). However, as in every year, choosing only a few LP’s was a difficult task, excluding either old favourites (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Jack White, TV on the Radio or The Horrors amongst others) or excellent records that made the professional rock critics’ choices (The War On Drugs, Run the Jewels, FKA Twigs or St. Vincent). Anyway, these are the usual rules of the game so let’s start our Festive Top 15!

2014 Favourite Musical…Thing : Foo Fighters “Sonic Highways”

…thing and not strictly speaking record as we are talking here about a documentary plus the record itself. For those who live in an entire different galaxy, Foo Fighters have been for around twenty years the band driven by Dave Grohl (former drummer of a quite famous band called Nirvana…). I do not have in mind another example of one person having so much success and music credibility in two different bands, knowing he does not play drums but guitar in the Foo Fighters (yes, there was as well Joy Division/New Order…but this is different). Every Foo Fighters record in the past years has been a reward as far as I am concerned especially when one goes over the first layer of their music and finds beauty and subtlety beyond the noisy surface. This new record was based on a clear principle : 8 one-hour documentary episodes about great American cities (namely Chicago, Washington DC, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle and New York) all directed by Dave Grohl . The band’s new tracks had to be recorded in each city in a legendary studio. The results are beautiful and I recommend to watch the entire series before enjoying the record. Is it without any doubt the best record of the year and one that will count in the years to come ? Not sure… Is it the product around music that gave me by far the most emotion throughout the year. Not one hesitation. Watch it and listen to the record.

The rest of the Top 15 records in alphabetical order

 Damon Albarn “Everyday Robots” Quite surprising but this was the first “real” solo album of Damon Albarn, one of the most hardest-working man in show business after his adventures with Blur, Gorillaz, The Good The Bad & The Queen, Mali Music, etc… A great surprise to be honest as I had not been that enthusiastic with the man lately but here he made a very focused and excellent record… and in particular one of the most beautiful songs of these last years with “Heavy Seas of Love” with Brian Eno.

 The Both “The Both” You will not find this album anywhere else, which I do not understand as it was my almost-number 1 and I spent a few days hesitating… Yes, real important things in life, I know… This is the project of indie rocker Ted Leo (voice and guitar) and the great Aimee Mann (voice and guitar). I must admit I am not really objective about Aimee Mann as she is one of my favourite female voices ever and I would find arguments to love her if she were to sing the phone book. If you like punchy, melodic, subtle guitar rock, do the effort and you will be rewarded by this hidden treasure.

 Broken Bells “After The Disco” Another project from two quite active characters of the music scene, Broken Bells are James Mercer of The Shins and Danger Mouse who is one half of Gnarls Barkley and probably the most requested producer of these last fifteen years. Their first self titled record from 2010 was good but this one went a step forward. Melancholic 4 am dance pop music when things are desperate and full of hope.

 Mac DeMarco “Salad Days” I had seen Mac DeMarco and his band a few years ago and even if one could feel a great potential in their songs and melody, their slacker attitudes was a bit tough to cope on during a full record or show. Complete change with this wonderful album and although the Canadian would hate me for me saying it, he has changed and improved his art with a sense of maturity. This guy might well be one of the classic songwriters of our times so discover him if not done yet.

 Flying Lotus “You’re Dead!” The electronica movement has been more dynamic than ever this year and LP’s by Sohn or SBTRKT were really close to be in the list this year. I chose Flying Lotus as his music is an amazing mix of sounds (jazz, hip-hop, dance, jungle) one can listen at home, in clubs or through one’s headphones. Being the grandnephew of Alice and John Coltrane does not bring a bad DNA neither…

 Kelis “Food” I had lost interest in her for a long time and her latest records were only Ok-ish but what a come-back this year ! For those who are not that young, Kelis entered the musical world with strength at the young age of 19 in 1998 with her first Neptunes-produced LP “Kaleidoscope” and was married to the excellent rap singer Nas. She found an equal interest in cooking and food in the last years and became a chef. Her last LP was based on her two passions and was produced by David Sitek from TV On The Radio. For those who like soul with a modern touch.

 Little Dragon “Nabuma Rubberband” Fronted by the female singer Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon is a Swedish band which has been doing records throughout the 00’s with a funk/pop/rock formula that found the perfect formula this year with this record. Melodies to hum in the shower and a sense of melancholia made it one of the records that everyone should love, from demanding rock fans to those who love their pop music nice and easy.

 Florent Marchet “Bambi Galaxy” Not sure if living now in London is what explains the fact that there are two French records in the list this year… I had always found Florent Marchet’s music interesting but sometimes on the verge of being slightly irritating. This record is completely different as one can feel this is going to be great from the first note onwards. French-speakers will like the Gainsbourg-influenced lyrics but everyone should succumb to the charms of this cosmic and very emotional music. The kind of future we would imagine sounding like when we were young in the 70’s or 80’s.

 Metronomy “Love Letters” Their former record “The English Riviera” was our LP of the year in 2011 and remains without any doubt in the Top 10 record of the 2010’s. Their latest LP did not have the same immediate sense of greatness but was one of these records rewarding you little by little. Great and simple melodies and a “je ne sais quoi” that made it part of this list without any doubt. Live review here.

 Morrissey “World Peace Is None Of Your Business” Poor unlucky Stephen Patrick Morrissey… Despite a weakening health, he eventually came back on top artistic form and delivered the record we had been waiting for more than twenty years for such a talent… only to see his new record label not really promoting it and getting rid of the former The Smiths singer after a few months. Pity as seeing him back on top of his game after his great autobiography last year was a real pleasure. Re-discover him. Live review here.

  Spoon “They Want My Soul” This Austin, Texas band keeps on making excellent records on an impressive regular basis and one can only appreciate the fact that Spoon start to get more and more famous over their historic fan-base. In line with this year’s selection which has been strongly based on melodic songs-oriented artists, to my mind this is impossible not to like their mix of krautrock and catchy songs. Live review here.

 Sun Kill Moon “Benji” Another busy year for Mark Kozelek between solo concerts, collaborations and this new record under the Sun Kill Moon banner. Beautiful and long songs about death amongst friends and relatives sung with an acoustic guitar with his as-usual fantastic voice. One of this blog’s favourite artists. Live review here.

 Sebastien Tellier “L’Aventura” Our favourite French bearded excentric singer/songwriter, Sebastien Tellier was back this year with a beautiful LP recorded in Brazil. To be listened without prejudice and almost with the ears of a child to be able to jump in the direct, complex and inventive melodies of this album.

 Ben Watt “Hendra” This is Ben Watt’s second album…thirty one years after “North Marine Drive”. In the meantime, he was the driving force behind Everything but the Girl with wife Tracey Thorn, felt very ill, had three children, went on being a well-respected DJ, wrote two beautiful books… and here we were in 2014 with album number 2. Exactly the record I was expecting and hoping to be honest, which does not mean it was not one of the best of the year. Former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler very much involved as well. Could be your late night record or your Sunday morning one depending on your mood.

Other top 5’s :

  • New Musical Express (UK weekly mag.): 1. St. Vincent “St. Vincent” 2. Mac DeMarco “Salad Days” 3. The War On Drugs ”Lost In The Dream” 4. Aphex Twin ”Syro5. Caribou “Our Love”
  • Uncut (UK monthly mag.): 1. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” 2. Leonard Cohen “Popular Problems” 3. Aphex Twin “Syro” 4. FKA Twigs “LP1” 5. Sharon Van Etten “Are We There”
  • Mojo (UK monthly mag.): 1. Beck “Morning Phase” 2. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” 3. Sleaford Mods “Divide And Exit” 4. Jack White “Lazaretto” 5. St. Vincent “St. Vincent”
  • Paste (US web mag.): 1. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” 2. St. Vincent “St. Vincent” 3. Run The Jewels “Run The Jewels 2” 4. King Tuff “Black Moon Spell” 5. Alvvays “Alvvays”
  • Pitchfork (US website): 1. Run The Jewels “Run the Jewels 2” 2. FKA Twigs “LP1” 3. The War On Drugs “In The Dream” 4. Aphex Twin “Syro” 5. Grouper “Ruins”
  • Les Inrockuptibles (French weekly mag.): 1. Christine and the Queens “Chaleur Humaine” 2. Damon Albarn “Everyday Robots” 3. Mac DeMarco “Salad Days” 4. FKA Twigs “LP1” 5. Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains “Piano Ombre”
  • Magic rpm (French monthly mag.): 1. Ariel Pink “pom pom” 2. Metronomy “Love Letters” 3. Donovan Blanc “Donovan Blanc” 4. Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains “Piano Ombre” 5. Mac DeMarco “Salad Days”
  • New Noise (French bimester mag.): to be announced soon!
  • Sound Opinions (US music podcast) Greg Kot’s 1. Kelis “Food” 2. Protomartyr “Under Color of Official Right” 3. Benjamin Booker “Benjamin Booker” 4. Mary J. Blige “The London Sessions” 5. Wussy “Attica!” Jim DeRogatis’ 1. Against Me! “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” 2. Ex Hex “Rips” 3. Le Butcherettes “Cry Is For The Flies” 4. Aphex Twin “Syro” 5. Shellac “Dude Incredible”
  • Other Music (NY records store): Top 30 in no particular order
  • Rough Trade (London records store) : 1. Temples “Sun Structures” 2. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” 3. Todd Terje “It’s Album Time” 4. Metronomy “Love Letters” 5. Little Dragon “Nabuma Rubberband”

It’s 1985 again ! Bob Mould, 18th November 2014, Village Underground / The Jesus and Mary Chain, 24th November 2014, Troxy / Morrissey, 29th November 2014, O2 Arena

The Queen is Dead“, “Hardly Getting Over It“, “Just Like Honey“, “Asleep“, “Never Understand“, “Hoover Dam“,… here is a sample of the fantastic songs I was lucky to listen to sung by the artists who created them in the first place. Let me add that they were all in great shape (ok, William Reid might have taken a few extra pounds…) despite all having a dark passenger in the late 90’s/early 00’s. But this is the beauty of rock music, one of the rare places where second acts are still an option and real talent always there somehow. Here are a few comments on these shows that were all occurring in the Eastern districts of beautiful London city.

Who : Bob Mould / Opening act : Young Knives / When : 18th November 2014 / Where : Village Underground, London / Place in history : rank # 27 / Setlist here

Bob Mould, Village Underground, November 2014, band
Those who are faithful followers of this blog know how fond I am of Uncle Bob, either for his extraordinary career with Hüsker Dü, Sugar and as a solo artist or for his great personal story, fantastically written in his book “See a little light“.

What is particularly great in Bob Mould’s current reincarnation is the energy and youth one can find in a 54-year old man. One of the reason is probably the trust he has in his current trio with Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums (same band as for the Brussels show in 2012) but as well the peace he found in his inner soul and trust in his art. Peace is probably not the right word by the way as the set was really powerful and the audience really reactive (anyone interested in pogoing with old-fashioned punks?).

Bob Mould, Village Underground, November 2014, Bob singing

That might have been the only regret of this concert held in the beautiful bricked wall-venue. The man is so good in slow and introspective songs that seeing only his hardcore side is sometimes a bit frustrating. But great show overall and looking forward to seeing him next time.

Who : The Jesus and Mary Chain / Opening act : The Amazing Snakeheads / When : 24th November 2014 / Where : Troxy, London / Place in history : rank # 69 / Setlist here

The JAMC, Troxy, November 2014, Reid brothers

Last time I had seen The Jesus and Mary Chain on stage was in 2007 at Rock en Seine in Paris and I really thought that it would be the last time as it looked the relationship between brothers Jim and William Reid was as tense as ever. This is probably what has made this Scottish band so great throughout they years : internal tension and a very clear attitude about their art and the limits above which not to go and not to compromise.

The JAMC, Troxy, November 2014, Jim Reid

As a consequence, this current mini-tour was a real gift and to add up to the reward the set was dedicated to their first LP “Psychocandy” (NME Album of the Year in 1985). The above-mentioned album was played beautifully but moreover they were smart enough to start the set with a few other classics of their own. To my mind, it might have been of their best concerts. Here, maturity means integrity as the songs were played with Jim Reid singing better than ever and William reminding everyone that he must be one of the most underrated guitarists of our times. Happy to have you back guys.

Who : Morrissey / Opening act : Anna Calvi / When : 29th November 2014 / Where : 02, London / Place in history : rank # 30 (with The Smiths) / Setlist here
Morrissey, O2 Arena, November 2014, Band

London was holding yesterday evening Morrissey’s only date of his current tour. Although it looked a bit ambitious at first and in particular when watching poor Anna Calvi trying to give a bit of emotion and life to her great songs in such a big arena, the place was actually full when the great man arrived on stage. Wearing white clothes of an uncertain style (between the Loveboat series and workingman overalls) and hugging his crew of mainly American musicians all wearing beautiful “FUCK HARVEST RECORDS” tee-shirts, one could feel a certain emotion on stage and a real and beautiful connection with the British and Toulouse (South West of France) audience.

This is not a secret that Morrissey is currently not in his best-ever health shape but one should not be surprised when reading his fantastic biography as he can already consider himself a real survivor amongst his peers. But this was difficult to spot when seeing his energy and enthusiasm on stage. On top of it, I really found his voice close to perfection last night, even when he sang tricky slow ones.

Morrissey, O2 Arena, November 2014, singing on screen

The show really confirmed that his last LP “World Peace is none of your business” is really amongst his best ones. Although one could regret that Stephen Patrick Morrissey did not sing more tracks from his the Smiths and solo repertoire (as all done live at the O2 were amazing), the overall level of the quality of the set plus the emotion felt made it one of the best shows of the year.

Morrissey – Autobiography… or how to cope at best with life and death.

It arrived from nowhere but the object is now here and refusing to read it would be a disgrace. That was my humble tentative to write in Morrissey’s style but I promised I will not give another try such his writing is talented and rich (and mine is not…)

No need to present Morrissey I guess as you know this blog has been cherishing The Smiths for years now. Although less legendary, Morrissey’s solo career has been very interesting and I do not have in mind a real weak Morrissey LP although a few of them are bigger than others.

Morrissey has been quite low-profile concerning this book and it was a real surprise for all to have it available. The fact of being published by Penguin Classics (home of prestigious dead writers such as Dickens and Chekhov) is quite a good summary of what the book is : literate, open, dealing with death, friendship, treason…with lots if humour ! Indeed, the reason this book is such a pleasure is that it works on two levels : one can find of course all the typical facts expected from a musician’s autobiography (the first years as a fan of the New York Dolls, Bowie, Roxy, Patti… ; the first meeting with Johnny Marr, the Smiths years, the solo years, the infamous Court suing from former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, success in the USA within the Mexican-American community, etc…) but this would not make it different from any other such book (although I must admit it would have been fine with me).

What makes this book amazing is the way Morrissey writes English, his use of the full range of the English vocabulary, the formulas he uses and the constant humour and the self-deprecating attitude. Not only self-deprecating by the way as he makes amazingly funny (but tough) comments on people such as The Judge John Weeks, former Rough Trade manager Geoff Travis, Manchester legend Tony Wilson, Mike Joyce, many journalists,… (the list is endless). Oh…and have in mind too as any unsuccessful records done either by the Smiths or Morrissey were only coming from bad Records’ Company decisions or dishonest reviews in magazines!

What is somewhat quite disturbing throughout Morrissey’s life is the way he is surrounded by people full of life who die from one day to another ; from many members of his Irish-English family to fellow music industry partners, the way these facts keep on happening throughout the book is fascinating. The way he writes about the late great singer Kirsty MacColl is particularly moving.

Well, enough said… as the great man would say. Just have in mind that there is no excuse not to read this book for all the reasons I tried to share above. It will allow you to kill time the right way before the last post coming soon about our very Best of 2014 ; stay tuned !