Johnny Marr has been involved in many more projects than I can name since the Smiths broke up in the 80s, and I was curious to hear what kind of material he’s turning out almost 25 years later. His Smiths era playing style is one of the most recognizable in the last 30 years, and part of me was hoping to hear that again.
I guess there’s no point in trying to play the same way he did back then – there was a time and a place for that – and there are some impressive instrumental bits on the record. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about his singing.
Playland kicks off with “Back in the Box,” not a great song but exciting at least. The next two songs are a bit tough to stomach in my opinion, but the fourth track “Candidate” is an intriguing piece of music. It’s one of the few songs on the album where the lyrics and melody don’t drag a good backing track down. One example of this is “25 Hours,” which contains some impressive guitar work, but the melody and Marr’s voice ruin any potential for it to develop into an overall good song. It’s a shame how often this is the case on this album. I won’t deny that “Boys Get Straight” and “This Tension” are strong band performances, but the singer doesn’t do anything to add to them.
After listening to Playland a few times, I won’t deny that Marr produced some fine moments that are worth a listen, but I expected something better from a guy who’s made such great music in the last thirty years. It’s certainly not a singer’s album and not really a songwriter’s album. It’s more of a musician’s album than anything, and I think some of these songs would be much better as instrumentals. I think he’s better as a sidekick when he has someone to bounce ideas off. If he does another solo album, he should either find a real singer with whom he can write songs, or have a different singer on every song. No doubt there’s plenty of singers who dream of working with Johnny Marr.
Key Tracks: “Candidate,” “This Tension,” “Back in the Box”
RIYL: The Smiths, Stone Roses