Review: Playland by Johnny Marr

Anna Ireland


So Johnny Marr has returned. Second solo offering Playland (following 2013’s debut The Messenger) follows a stream of post-Smiths outputs from the guitarist and founding member.

Recorded on the back of touring, and citing this as an inspiration, the album displays sparks of this electricity, almost palpably so in ‘Boys Get Straight’; possessing heavy guitar and a punchy bassline, it’s not an electric frenzy, but a guaranteed sweaty-mosh pit soundtrack via expertly executed guitar riffs.

Marr’s voice lends itself to the format of easy, often questionably meaningless, lyrics, and standout guitar. It’s guitar-heavy, represented on title-track ‘Playland,’ but then again, this is Marr’s forte. It is not lost, yet does not always electrify, leaving the listener wishing that the spark would ignite and descend into a glimmer of chaos. Crooning ability is displayed on ‘Candidate,’ illuminated by an influx of chords and punchy beat. There is a sense of security, with the hope that there’s danger round the corner; like a fairground ride, but one without the intense adrenaline.

‘Easy Money’ is the standout on the 11-track record, launching immediately into Marr’s catchy lyricism and punchy guitar, the strong bassline echoing as he chants ‘Cause that’s money money’ to a stuck-in-your-head kind of beat. It’s not quite anthemic, but it’s a complete toe-tapper.

There are moments of real enjoyment on the album; ‘Dynamo’ is Shins-esque in its wistfulness, a mirage not shattered by heavier guitar riffs. As Marr croons ‘sky high, fly Dyanamo’ there is a real sense of elevation, but it fails to materialise elsewhere and indeed peak. Similarly, Marr’s vocal style lends well to ‘The Trap,’ a gentle nudge in the direction of truly satisfying.
There are spatterings of synth and electronic elements here that ring true of Broken Bell days, but nothing as concrete or original. For a musician with such a back-catalogue, there is perhaps a temptation to play with that which is comfortable, and this is what Marr does.

Undoubtedly, those die-hard Marr fans, and indeed those that were impressed by The Messenger, will have no qualms here. For others, it is an enjoyable album from a master of guitar, who can’t seem to quite master something original this time round.

Playland, released on New Voodo Records, is available now.


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