Review: Johnny Marr – Playland

Having already established himself as one of the most iconic guitarists of the 20th Century, it’s fair to listen to Johnny Marr’s newest solo effort Playland with high expectations.

From his days in The Smiths to his tenures in Modest Mouse and The Cribs, everything Marr has associated himself with is normally the subject of critical acclaim. While his latest creation may do little to reinvent the wheel, there are plenty of reminders throughout this 11 song collection which proves why the man the NME called a “godlike genius” is held in such high esteem.

While he may be best known for tracks recorded almost 30 years ago, lead single “Easy Money”, which contains a riff strikingly similar to the sound of Two Door Cinema Club, root Marr’s newest songs directly in the current indie rock landscape. Playland remains to be distinctive thanks to the radiant guitar licks the musician became famous for, separating him from a lot of similar acts around presently which fall victim to uninventive generality.

Unsurprisingly, these intricate licks found in almost every song are by far the highlights of the album. Distorted bass and the frequent use of synthesizers compliment his playing appropriately but Marr’s guitar is the main driving force, especially in faster-paced songs on the album like stand-out “Back in the Box” and the title track.

For the most part, he stays rigidly loyal to the proven verse-chorus-verse formula. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, it gives a sense of urgency to an album devoid of unnecessary extravagance. This normally works in the artist’s favour, but there are moments on the record like “25 Hours” which prove Marr can still shine when he strays away from the typical framework set down.

There may be no questioning the caliber of his guitar playing but sadly, choruses and vocals fail to impress in the same way. Granted, it’d be harsh to expect first-rate vocals but there are few moments where the singing simply fails to match the quality of the instrumentation. The melodies serve as a medium to let the guitar steal the spotlight, which in Marr’s case definitely isn’t a bad thing.

Luckily, this does little to take away from the overall quality of the album as a whole and there are definitely exceptions to the statement. The chorus of the relatively tranquil “The Trap” proves that there is diversity to be found in Playland and that there is more to Marr’s songwriting than flashy guitar lines. It’s just a shame that this is the exception rather than the rule.

Only a year after releasing his previous solo album The Messenger, Johnny Marr picks up where he left off and succeeds in providing a fresh and worthy addition into his already expansive back catalogue. While he has been involved in a plethora of different bands throughout the years, Playland proves that Marr’s solo work firmly stands on its own feet, making it the album anybody could have asked for from him.

Daniel O’Connor

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