Johnny Marr: Playland (Warner Music)
As indie’s guitar messiah releases his second solo album, Playland, Harley Cassidy looks into the ex-Smith’s latest piece of work.
If there’s anyone who can still get by on sheer likeability and coolness at the age of fifty, it’s Johnny Marr. His post-Smiths career has painted him as the reluctant rock star making the most admirable thing about him, (aside from his guitar playing), his modesty. He’s always excelled at being the right hand man, the fundamental gift to a project or band that will dab it with an essence of cool. For the last twenty years his role of the confederate, floating from The Cribs, Modest Mouse and his own supergroup, Electronic, had dishevelled any need for a solo album. How long did it seem that Johnny Marr was a man most satisfied working from the shadows? Well about, twenty six years until the release of last year’s, The Messenger, it seems.
Whilst The Messenger was an eye opener to Marr’s talent as a frontman and vocalist, it didn’t offer much in the way of surprise and once again, it seems whilst Playland is built on dazzling guitar work and decent enough indie rock, the album doesn’t quite deliver. The songs meander without snapping into a structure; Marr told NME that a main inspiration on this album was “boredom” and boy can you tell. His spiky, hard driving format is stretched over a whole album which at times isn’t enough, especially for a master like Marr. Of course, the guitars are sublime. But the actual songs feel trudged out with as much vigour as a band like Kaiser Chiefs.
Easy Money plays with barbed riffs and certainly has bounce, it’s provokingly catchy and will keep Marr’s ardent fans happy enough as he questions the pursuit and greed of money. The Trap harks back to Marr’s Electronic days, all atmospheric vocals and high fret riptide, whilst Dynamo is altogether a highly enjoyable composition, correlating perfectly with Johnny’s slender voice. There are some brilliant hooks floating around on Playland too and even some trademark Smiths jangle that’s been stowed inside.
It never will wind up being a bad, even mediocre record – Johnny Marr is above that. He’s entrenched in the indie rock format, he’s a pioneer of the sound, he knows how to play it better than anyone. If anything, Playland is a decent indie rock album with a bonfide guitar genius as its bearer, elevating it just a little more than above average. Its intention never was to be experimental or to shake things up but to be a mere continuation of the music that Johnny Marr is so apt at making. However, it seems his most evoking voice is, and always has been, his guitar.
All words by Harley Cassidy. More of Harley’s work for Louder Than War can be found in her author’s archive.