Mancunian music veteran Nile Marr is back with his latest EP Still Hearts. This is the newest musical labour from Marr’s solo career, following the 2019 release of single Part Time Girl.
Of course, we must address this charming elephant in the room. Marr is a pedigree in the breeding ground of music. Imagine Johnny Marr is your dad; Morrissey is that arsehole pseudo-uncle the family doesn’t mention; you thrive under the Marr name tainted with genius only to realize you can’t quite forge a success story quite like The Smiths. Heaven does bloody know I’m miserable now. It’s very hard to write objectively about something like this. I am a huge Smiths fan but if you Google search Nile Marr, you find exactly what you’re looking for; him, not his Dad. Nile has altered the Marr name in his own right and re-popularised it for himself, not Johnny. So, that’s enough with The Smiths’ references today – it’s not 1980-something and Nile is a deserving musician without the clout of his surname.
Prior to his latest musical efforts, Marr released debut album TV Broke My Brain under the name Man Made back in 2016 to acclaim from Radio X’s John Kennedy and BBC Radio 1 Introducing. However, Marr has taken an unusual diversion in his musical trajectory having just toured with composer Hans Zimmer – that rock ‘n’ roll, eh? From a UK club with sticky floors littered in tins of Red Stripe to performing with a 50-piece symphony orchestra in a concert hall, Marr definitely knows how to put on a show. Since the tour’s end, Marr has returned to Manchester to build on his already anticipated second album.
Back in his stomping ground and his spiritual home of Manchester’s Night and Day Cafe, Marr has settled back to record new material. Part Time Girl has already made its way across the indie airwaves and a few short months later we finally have a 3-track EP to settle our ears ahead of album Are You Happy Now? On the album composition, Marr has stated: “I didn’t want to make sad music… I wanted to express how moving back to Manchester felt. My music is there for people who want a bit of melody in their day; I want them to hear the music and dance around and feel good about themselves”. And with just a taste of what’s to come, the Still Hearts EP is justifying the musician’s intentions.
Opening with title track Still Hearts, the EP immediately nails together early indie jangles with Marr’s arresting vocals reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen’s frontman, Ian McCulloch. In spite of his roots, the musician has rid his singing of that Northern twang rife in modern indie music – we get it, you’re a Northerner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for Liam Gallagher copycats but Marr’s voice is really a breath of fresh air. Still Hearts pulses with a reviving temper while the simple intermittent ‘ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo’-s staple the vocals and melody together for a fluid but foot-tapping tune. Beyond the music and lyrics, the song is an atmosphere – it is my favourite on the EP and takes me back to PCT (pre-corona times) waiting at a bar for a drink while gleaning the venue for fit boys, it’s an effortless memory we all know brought to life in music.
Riding on the wave of the feel-good, the next track Hush is a brilliant invitation to dance. The buttery tempo of Still Hearts has melted and is propelled by jerking guitar riffs and sizzling vocals. I’ve got my drink, I’m on the dance floor, I am ready to boogie. Beneath, however, Marr addresses situational discrepancies defined by the buildings surrounding – perhaps based on his moving between England and America. Asserting ultimately that it doesn’t matter where you are to know who you are – “wherever you are, there’s life after buildings”. Masked in a noughites guise of guitar, the track is pensive while also maintaining the cool attitude of the EP.
And finally, ending with The Pusher, Marr indulges in the beauty of the basics. Opting for the classic indie song formula, the track perfectly closes the EP. Of course, all is not as it seems. The Pusher derives its title from the (mythical?) Canal Pusher in Manchester – a spectre haunting the canal pushing people to their death. The song, however, bases itself on the concept – laden with paranoia, the lyrics meander a series of questions about what is real – “tell me which one’s real?” The idea is perceptive in spite of its simplicity and brushes on the locality of a seemingly global pandemic (how fitting). However, in indie-pop fashion, it’s still the song we play at the end of the night, jump up and down to while gasping out the chorus before the lights turn on. Then skip back to track one.
Still Hearts perfectly embodies the veracity of Nile Marr in the space of 11 minutes. It’s easy to write off another male singer/songwriter as a cliché, but there’s something different with Marr that traces the golden age of indie even beyond its contemporary. Marr’s music balances nostalgia with novelty and every track feels like something we know while finding out something new. It’s the separate elements picked from musical predecessors that have been combined so strikingly attesting to Marr’s talent and potential. And that’s just the EP.