Nile Marr
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Misfire Alert: Nile Marr’s ‘Lonely Hearts Killers’ Takes a Wrong Turn

If this downer review prods listeners to check out Nile Marr’s 2020 minor masterpiece Are You Happy Now?, then at least Lonely Hearts Killers accomplished something.

Lonely Hearts Killers
Nile Marr
Oldham Street Records
6 February 2023

Music can make us happy, sad, excited, haunted, or suicidal. But when was the last time a new release made you really angry? Okay, maybe not ‘angry’ the way canceling the 2015 Muppets reboot made people angry, more like baffled, frustrated, and disappointed.

Our select music-snob circle had literally waited months for Nile Marr’s new record, with tongues hanging out. Why? Because Marr’s solo debut Are You Happy Now? was not only among 2020’s best releases but may have single-handedly rescued that pandemic annus horribilis from complete futility. So if this downer review prods listeners to check out that ebullient guitar-rock minor masterpiece, or even Marr’s prior artistic vehicle Man Made, then at least Lonely Hearts accomplished something.

Not that Marr is alone. Bibio, Fancey, Panic Division, Young Guv, Abandoned Pools: The past decade is littered with excellent indie-rock acts that took ill-advised detours into disco, synths, EDM, or otherwise. It’s understood that most bands yearn to grow musically; as Rush’s Neil Peart once said of 1982’s new-wavish Signals album: “We didn’t want to make Moving Pictures Part II.” But not every brave hobbit who leaves the Shire winds up saving Middle Earth, and abandoning one’s bailiwick carries severe artistic risk.

Case in point: Marr’s latest effort, Lonely Hearts Killers. Not to re-litigate 2020’s ‘Best Of’ album list, but Are You Happy Now? remains on our regular playlist two years later because it was utterly fantastic. Of course, any offspring of Smiths‘ maestro Johnny Marr has an enviable ramp to success, with gleeful and inventive riffs running in the family. But Happy Now and its Man Made predecessor, TV Broke My Brain, soared beyond such hereditary expectations, with hardly a bum note to be found. By contrast, Lonely Hearts veers from uninspired to somnolent to downright annoying. As a rule, those who hope for a second dose of perfection in this life are doomed to disappointment. Yet one might at least expect competence, if not wondrous marvels like Happy Now’s “Teenage Kissers” (perhaps 2020’s most ineffably gorgeous song).

Start with the not-so-bad: “Self Care”, “You Pull Me In”, and the title track are worth a listen or two. But sonic calamities like “The Rush”? A friend once compared such egregiously irritating music to being poked in the arm over and over again. At such dire moments, Lonely Hearts leans dangerously close to (gulp) unlistenable. Elsewhere, on “Birdsong” or the Goth-tinged “Eyes Like Deer”, Marr sounds terminally boring – perhaps the most damning insult any cultural critic can bestow. “Late Night Champion” is another disaster, paced more like Morris Albert’s execrable 1970s lounge hit “Feelings” than respectable indie rock.

Whatever happened to the innovative pop brilliance of earlier tunes like Happy Now’s “Perfect Crimes” or “Part-Time Girl”? On his Bandcamp page, Marr says, “I wanted this one to feel different to my previous album… I just tried to go with the late-night vibe.” Perhaps one might suspect that lockdowns dimmed his songwriting. Given that Are You Happy Now? came out in November 2020, that does not wash either.

Of late, Nile has been touring with his father, playing 1980s Smiths classics to adoring crowds. His previous two releases are also excellent, bordering on must-haves. This makes Lonely Hearts Killers a real tragedy for us die-hards and a lost opportunity for everyone else.

RATING 3 / 10