Johnny Marr certainly hasn’t wasted time with his second solo album. When he toured Australia in January it was the end of touring for The Messenger (2013) and he was hoping to get back into the studio as quickly as possible. With Playland he’s made good on his word, continuing to mine big indie guitar sounds, anthemic vocals and now some electronic undercurrents, with mixed success.
First single Easy Money was a bolt from the gates signalling Marr’s intention to think and play in widescreen mode. With a guitar riff he snuck out the door when he left Modest Mouse it’s a bold, almost glam meets new wave stomp possessing a infectious ear-worm of a chorus. If that had hints of past decades then Dynamo is a deadset candidate for a redux of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack with its synths and Psychedelic Furs meet U2 guitar sound.
It’s always interesting to hear Marr take a songs in new and different directions but the most rewarding tracks here are those that echo his seminal work in The Smiths, in particular This Tension and The Trap. Their chorused six-string jangle and understated approach suit the guitarist more than the maximalist moments that overshadow much of the better song-craft on Playland.
Marr’s singing sounds stronger, with more personality than it has before which will quieten many of his critics but generally Playland suffers from trying to cram too much into its eleven songs, its over-exuberance resulting in a sense of disorientation.
this review was first published in The Music (Sept ’14)