Album review: Johnny Marr, Playland

The ex-Smith presents a confident, engaging follow-up to last year's Messenger

Ex-Smiths guitarist and songwriter Johnny Marr isn't interested in reviving old ghosts. The man who gave the legendary British group from the '80s their sound and style has reinvented himself as a genuine solo artist, frontman and lead singer after brief stints as member in a variety of indie bands. And as his newest solo album Playland strongly suggests, he's not interested in rehashing his past work. Instead, Marr is more interested in carving out his own niche with his new three-piece backing him, and rocking out like never before.

While Marr's first proper solo album, 2013's The Messenger, proved a fine, focused work, the ace guitarist comes off as more poised in Playland. Marr has brilliantly tapped into the momentum and firepower he harnessed while touring the world to promote his last album and his sense of urgency and passion shines fiercely throughout his new release.

Drawing heavily from post-punk and New Wave influences, Marr really gets to stretch his capabilities over the 11 songs on Playland . The album's incredibly catchy lead single "Easy Money" features a thumping, rubbery bass hook and quirky keyboard riffs sure to stick your head for days. "Boys Get Straight" is probably the most frantic, frenetic tune Marr's ever committed to wax, more than resembling the Pretenders' 1980 out-of-control spastic rocker "Tattooed Love Boys." However, the album's standout is a mid-tempo number, "Candidate." Here, Marr's vocals are at their strongest, most emotive and most accomplished to date.

Lyrically and musically, Playland also finds Marr coming more into his own as a bona fide band leader. His guitar work is as miraculous and awe-inspiring as ever but it's the tenacity and assurance Marr wields throughout Playland that's the real draw here. While there are no immediate nods to the band that put him on the map and is still revered by so many, there certainly isn't a wasted or squandered moment. Self-producing Playland (along with keyboardist Doviak), Marr manages to slap a bright sheen on all the tracks while still allowing them to retain a sense of rawness, a balance that persists throughout the entire record.

With such a rigorous recording rate and touring schedule that's nearly unheard of these days, Marr seems hell bent on proving his worth as a solo artist and showing that he still has plenty of fine music inside that's aching to come out. If he continues to release albums as consistent and engaging as Playland, he'll do just that.

Critics' Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars.

About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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