Johnny Marr is on fire musically, releasing two solo albums in less than two years. The journeyman guitarist who made up the other creative half of one of the most iconic bands in Alternative music, is back again in a very big way. “Playland” picks up where 2013’s “The Messenger” left off, with Marr’s legendary, jangly guitar and solid vocals, but this time with even more confidence and hooky pop tunes. Marr has said of second releases,” I always like bands’ second albums; I could not wait to make my second.” Marr slid right into working on” Playland” as he was wrapping up touring for” The Messenger”. On tour Marr rediscovered his love of playing live and the result is reflected on the new release.
Marr’s solo efforts come after a decades long sojourn contributing on many musical incarnations, forming Electronic, joining The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. Marr provided aid and comfort to numerous musical endeavors for such artists as Paul McCartney and Neil Finn to name a few. Marr released his long awaited first solo “The Messenger” in Feb of 2013. On “Playland” he wanted to take on themes of escapism and how that has morphed into consumerism. Marr states, "I like the idea of sneaking a serious concept into the mainstream, and disguising it as a big pop tune!” What appears trite actual speaks universal truth. Marr goes on to state, "On Playland we tried to make good catchy guitar pop with lyrics that make you feel you’re living your life." Stepping out from the enormous shadows of The Smiths legend, Marr is arguably Britain’s last great guitar stylist.”
The anathematic “Back in the Box” starts off the release, a fast upbeat song, with driving drums, it compelling you to dance around. Marr’s vocal takes center stage. “Easy Money” is the pre released teaser with the unforgettable video; it clicks into place among the other tracks. This song definitely does what Marr desired; it gets its foot in the door with the hook laden tune and then serves up his thoughts on consumerism and money, "Have to accumulate”, “No innocence in commerce.” Marr can project more meaning with a guitar chord than most dictionaries. The song has got to bring a smile to the face of his fans. “Dynamo” could be describing the energy of a dynamo found in this song. The listener will find a forceful song with a really nice echo effect on Marr’s voice. Each song is building on the next and not a flaw in the bunch.
The track “Candidate” slows things down a bit. A song questioning what the hell is going on behind the eyes of the candidate in the song. “The things you want to say fade away with the fear.” Most of us are familiar with Marr’s politics, but the song is general enough to apply to any candidate who has sold out for the big time. The song sonically is a companion to “New Town Velocity” off “The Messenger”.
Aggressive guitars cranks up “25 Hours” showing forth all of Marr’s magical guitar abilities. The track has a kicking rhythm groove. There is nothing tentative here, and it goes down all so easy. The band is playing exceptionally tight and the fact they were coming off tour shines through. “The Trap” features shimmering chords making for a spirally feeling song. The title track ”Playland” is pure sonic joy, Very reminiscent of “Rusholme Ruffians” a song also about escapism, upon hearing “Playland” you will have no doubt Marr is firing on all cylinders. The track is perfectly meshing with the other tracks, catchy but with an underlying message.” Speak Out Reach Out” harkens back to Marr’s time with Electronic with a bit of Cure flare.
“Boy Get Straight” is a third song on the release that forms an arc that starts with” Back in the Box” through “25 Hours” and ending with “Boy Get Straight”, the three are the real barnburners on the album. These songs will be highlights in concert, and the fun Marr is having playing these songs is palpable. Marr is providing his trademark brilliant guitar rifts on every song, but on “Boy Get Straight”, Back in The Box” and “25 Hours” it has been raised to alchemy.
“This Tension” again showcases Marr’s excellent guitar play and one can understand how he was awarded the NME Godlike Genius award, the man is a guitar genius of the like we might never see again. The track “Little King” finishes out the release with a jangly guitar that demands you writhe along with the tune. You can not stand still listening to this song. It seems almost effortlessly played; Marr makes it seem so easy. This album shows off the embarrassment of musical riches Marr has at his disposal. He puts to shame folks half his age with his energy and ability.
The album is a sonic escape as was intended. I felt like Marr was a shade hesitant on” The Messenger” but there is no holding back on this release. The cause of that hesitation was possibly concern about finally going solo or having to stare down the elephant in the room, “The Smiths” legacy. He seems to have completely exercised those fears with this release. Both” Playland” and” The Messenger” should put to rest any doubts about Marr’s ability to leading a quality solo career. With “Playland” Marr has released a recording filled with mad energy and approachability. Just buy the album, resistance is futile.
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