Review: Johnny Marr — Playland

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Two Stars
★★☆☆☆

What can you say about an album whose entire contents blur into one? Despite numerous listens to Johnny Marr’s latest solo offering, Playland, I’m struggling to find anything meaningful to say about the album. As a member of numerous eponymous bands, he has spouted a consistent stream of brilliance. But two albums into his solo career, he is yet to produce anything of real interest or value – even if NME worship every strum of his guitar.

There is no denying that the man’s talent was brilliant, but you almost feel that you appreciate this work due to his reputation. This is the man who wrote numerous high-charting tracks with The Smiths in a few hours, and flirted with all the biggest names in the music industry, from Bryan Ferry to The Pretenders to The Cribs. He helped spawn songs that define a generation, for God’s sake. But when it comes down to his present work, has Marr finally lost his edge?

Let’s start with the positives of the album. Or should I say, positive. The album’s highlight is by far ‘Easy Money’. Catchy riffs and a light rock sound ensure the song is both easy on the ear and on the dancing feet. But when you take a break from bobbing along, you realise that the lyrics hide a deeper message — the futility of being a slave to money — somewhat ironic considering the revenue the album has accumulated already, charting midweek at number eight.

The album cover aptly conveys its musical content. Johnny Marr’s image and style is clearly imprinted upon it. Yet the finished product lacks any standout qualities. It resembles more the naff clip art font of the album’s title and mundane backdrop than the suave style of Marr himself.

Playland is not offensive to the ear, but neither is it particularly pleasing or memorable. The best way I can describe it is background music — it’s there and it’s okay but you’re quite happy to talk over it.

As has been suggested elsewhere, Marr is obviously still ‘musically literate’. After thirty years of experience in bands, there’s no doubt he’s still capable of writing a catchy riff; even if the opening of ‘Dynamo’ sounds strangely similar to his earlier work with Electronic, ‘Getting Away With It’.

‘Candidate’ and ’25 Hours’ sound like the work of a slightly misinformed Joy Division cover band, and most lyrics on the album are not as playful as the title promises. However, the album as a whole is an improvement on his first solo attempt, 2013’s The Messenger. Hopefully, this trend will continue into his next project — then maybe he’ll produce an album with, dare I say, two really “good” songs on it? 

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