Two albums in the space of 18 months is almost unheard off these days, compared to 30 years ago where bands refuted the now commonplace philosophy of; write, release, tour, repeat and simply put out new music whenever it was ready. A prime example of this would be The Smiths, so it’s hardly surprising that guitar genie who instigated the band’s inception has kept to that very same process in his ongoing solo career.
As far as comparisons to Marr’s wondrous creations in The Smiths, that is pretty much it, aside from the Morrissey-esque lyrics (‘I’m a conceptual son/with an intellectual gun’) and eerie minor riff of ‘This Tension’ that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Strangeways, Here We Come, for instance. Instead, we are presented with a consummately structured, iridescent improvement on The Messenger.
Simply listening to areas of the record such as the stripped back opening to ’25 Hours’ and the virtually unaccompanied mid-verses of both ‘Back In The Box’ and ‘Boys Get Straight’, gives the distinct impression that Johnny is now so settled into his role as the centrepiece of the performance that his vocals just ooze a sense of assurance towards the lyrics, regardless of their meaning or intention.
However, make no mistake, each and every track on this record has a decided message to get across while still allowing the listener an element of scope for interpretation. Much like ‘Upstarts’, ‘Say Demense’ and ‘New Town Velocity’ from The Messenger, Marr tackles a range of clear and present real-life issues such as; the pursuit and integrity of money with lead single ‘Easy Money’, as well the subject of man’s pathological need to ‘play’ and the necessity of a positive work-life balance in the titular track ‘Playland’.
Furthermore, tracks such as ‘Candidate’ and ‘Dynamo’ as well as the rest of the album in its entirety showcase Marr’s continually astounding ability to make strings of arpeggios and pacy alternately picked riffs sound simple, while ‘The Trap’, ‘Speak Out, Reach Out’ and ‘Little King’ are suitable displays of what the combination of an unconventionally simplistic run from Johnny and the incandescence of Doviak’s synths can bring.
Finally, although I did indeed touch on the sparsity of musical references to Marr’s most prominent and adored venture that is not to say there aren’t hints scattered throughout the majority of the record that hark back through his entire career. An aspect that will undoubtedly be pleasing to both: more recent fans and aficionados alike. All in all, there is no question that Playland is a step up from his solo debut, in both sound and substance. Yet another true Marrsterpiece, if you will.
Words by Alex G