Johnny Marr – Playland

johnny_marr_playlandYou’ve probably heard of Johnny Marr. He was in a band a few years back called The Smiths who done quite well for themselves. Since the demise of his first band he’s started and joined various bands across the way, including The Cribs for a short stint. Last year he ventured into the world of solo albums with his debut offering The Messenger and this year brings us the quite wonderful Playland.

A lively intro is always a sure-fire way to kick your album off in style. ‘Back In The Box’ is certainly lively enough with driving drums and a nice bit of synth. My first thought is how smooth and sleek it sounds, everything is just perfect. A brilliant first track to kick things off, ticking all the boxes with a great hook and a too-cool-for-school chorus.

In a similar vein ‘This Tension’ is chilled out, very cool and in no rush. It’s equally as beautiful as the first track and shows off Marr’s relaxed vocal delivery style very well. Ashcroft-esque in its delivery at points ‘This Tension’ is a top track with some nice Americana/surf vibes throughout.

Pop-tastic guitars welcome ‘Easy Money’ to the party and it’s very catchy indeed. Very much a toe-tapper. It has big pop overtones but with a nice electronic piece layered over the top. The chorus will be stuck in your head for days after hearing it, believe me!

So far Playland has been really enjoyable, will I get bored? I really don’t feel like I will at this point. Lively with the right amount of chill, it’s a great piece of work.

‘Speak Out Reach Out’ is a more serious track, a bit less pop with a more serious lyrical message. It’s another slick affair; the guitar work and Marr’s vocal delivery is really setting this album alight. It’s stylish: Skinny suit, Paisley pattern pocket kerchief, pointy shoes and a slick haircut with enough attitude to see it through happily.

Exploding out of the tracks, ‘Boys Get Straight’ never stops for breath. Frantic but precise with a 70’s-Lennon vocal feel, it’s another serious affair and done brilliantly. The rapid drumming offsets the rest of what’s going on in the track brilliantly and gives it a nice edginess. That edginess continues into ‘25 Hours’ with its rat-a-tat lyrical delivery and smooth groove. With some menacing keys going on in the background, it’s atmospheric and almost haunting in places, maintaining the seriousness of the 2nd third of the album and keeps everything flowing perfectly.

There are lots of influences on this album that I hear creeping through (which I love). ‘Candidate’ has a tremendous guitar piece very reminiscent of ‘Gimme Shelter’ but Marr makes it his own. An enormous, uplifting chorus follows from the slowly building verse and then breaks back into that Richards-Esque guitar work, and it’s just great.

Back to shiny-happy vibes, ‘The Trap’ has its charm but it’s the first track on the album I felt I could skip. For me it doesn’t have the same coolness, attitude or style of earlier songs. However, title track ‘Playland’ thunders into life with more driving drums and stylish synth intermixed with Marr’s trademark guitar work. It’s an absolute monster of a track with punk overtones in places and a razor-sharp delivery. You can almost see Marr sneering through some of the lyrics.

Coming to the end of a great body of work ‘Dynamo’ is 80’s in places and keeps the bouncing feel going. There’s some really nice guitar and synth work going on, well thought out tempo changes and some acid-vibe vocal harmonies. It’s a different track to most on the album but it works very well. Another big, catchy chorus is the order of the day and feels more stadium-centric than other tracks.

Closing track ‘Little King’ brings that cool feel back with its effortless guitar work and a very prominent bass-line which I loved, there’s not enough bass out there on today’s ‘guitar’ albums. And that’s what Marr’s Playland is – an excellent guitar album indeed, splashed with influences and mixed with different genres. It has everything you could want.

3 thoughts on “Johnny Marr – Playland

  1. Phil Shaw October 17, 2014 at 17:59 - Author

    Everything you could want (except great songs) ?

    Hi, Top review! I only disagree with your conclusion. Sorry.

    I should say Johnny Marr is/has been a hero of mine / I’ve loved his playing down the years / I know some of his techniques are way beyond my own capabilities. However, this album is so average I kind of find it quite embarrasing to admit to liking him anymore.

    It boils down to one simple truth I reckon – a great guitarist needs a great singer/lyricist/songwriter. The odds of all these skills being manifest in one person are reasonably small so there aren’t too many that pull it off at this level – Hendrix, Clapton, Young (Well ok, there are lots of them but in the big scheme of things quite a small percentage).

    He was on fire with the Smiths but now he has to wear a Cardigan just to get warm…
    Will I remember any of these songs next week? Don’t think so.

    Great blog by the way 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment about the blog, really appreciate that.

      I’ll let Andy who wrote the article reply on the details though!

  2. Hi Phil, thanks for taking the time to post.

    I enjoy The Smiths massively but outwith that can’t say I’ve followed Johnny Marr’s career too much – perhaps it’s my neutrality towards him that let me enjoy it so much. Shame to hear you’re embarrassed to admit liking him off the back of the album, scathing indeed!

    Definitely agree that it is very difficult for all the key skills to manifest in to one person. When you step back, yes there are a few but I’m struggling (maybe it’s too early) to think of anyone off the top of my head from the UK who can do it all or has done it all. Perhaps Bowie but I wouldn’t say his guitar work is up there with Clapton or Hendrix. Interesting comment, perhaps something for us to expand in to an article,