Re-Marr-kable! Review: Johnny Marr – Playland

Will Spencer 27 October 2014

Johnny Marr’s skill with a guitar is much fêted, and justifiably so, but what often goes unnoticed is his considerable talent as a composer of songs. It is the latter which distinguishes 'Playland' from its predecessor, 'The Messenger'; it is as much a masterpiece in music-making as guitar-playing.

This beauty of composition is especially evident on penultimate track 'This Tension'. The sweeping, jangling guitars will be familiar to anyone devotee of the Smiths, the multi-layered nature of the music creating an irresistible flow.  It's clear that Playland is not so much an overhaul, but an improved continuation from the start of the album – the pretty, warbling strummed art guitar stays unchanged from 'The Messenger'. And whereas Marr's first album began in a pleasant, if anodyne fashion, with 'The Right Thing Right', 'Back In The Box', Playland's first song, is a belting adrenalin rush, infused with an unrelenting urgency which is reflected in the lyrics. If you look hard, traces of Smiths' classic Still Ill can be detected in its staccato opening, repeated in reprise later in the song.

Playland is not simply about Marr’s 1980s legacy, though. More significantly, it sees Marr establish a distinct lyrical voice, one which had not quite fully emerged in his début solo album. Societal disintegration and the advent of technology are both themes which cross over from his first record, but are delivered in an almost tangible mood of disillusionment. 'Easy Money', the album’s single, is a fantastically infectious song about the materialism which defines society. 'Boys Get Straight' evokes similar concerns, and is equally mar(r)velous musically. In 'Speak Out Reach Out', Marr caustically sings: ‘Thank our mama Her Majesty…/Sleep under falling leaves/All the day’.

'Little King', which closes the album, sees Marr mourning the ‘whole quid pro quo’ before announcing that ‘the show must go on’, at once a critical indictment of modern society and a call-to-arms. Marr’s sophomore solo record does not mark a radical change in direction, but what it lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in refinement. Above all, it demonstrates that thirty-one years after the release of the Smiths’ eponymous début album, Johnny Marr remains at the top of his game.