26 October 2014

Johnny Marr - Playland

Well, it is not as if he ever lets the grass grow under his feet.  Johnny Marr has always been a busy boy, with such bands as Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs. The The, etc.  But for years, the nearest he got to a solo album was one he made with The Healers.  Not a bad album, but not one I would go out of my way to listen to again. This was until last year when he released 'The Messenger', it was an album we did not look at last year, whilst I cannot speak for the rest of the team I can say that the reason I did not personally pick it up was that I was not too keen on the overall result.  It just seemed too safe and nice, I was not expecting him to release a Grindcore album but I was not expecting Paul Weller lite either.  So it was a bit of a surprise to hear that he was releasing solo album number two so quickly.  With his ex-front man also releasing another album, let’s see if Mr Marr's second release is a) better than his first and b) better than Morrissey's.

The album starts off with "Back In The Box" is an interesting opening, medium paced and already much better than anything off 'The Messenger'.  It is not as important or grabbing as some of his earlier works, but it does have a Blondie-esque styling when they were still classed as a punk band.  It has an edge which is missing from some other bands currently gracing the charts.  A thought provoking opening, which should have been the template for the album.  "Easy Money" is more of the same from Mr Marr, this song is firmly in the Electronic section of Mr Marr's musical template and it is good to hear something in that style with a better singer (sorry Bernard Summer, but sometimes you do sound as if you want to be elsewhere). This was the first single to be released from the album, it was deliberately pick because of its message about money and the age old game of chasing it.  It has the sort of riff and bass combination that could be stuck in your head for ages, a very simple song with a strong message.  The third track is called "Dynamo" moves away from the Blondie/Electronic sounds and it goes for a more traditional indie sound.  It is well performed and there is nothing specifically wrong, but I found it to be sadly lacking in interest.  It just did not make that much of an impression for me; it just felt a little too flat in places.

"Candidate" is the next song and whilst it has the same slowed down pace as "Dynamo" and whilst it has a better overall finish, it feelings a little too over-worked as if it has been worked and re-worked to within an inch of its life.  It has a great hook in the chorus which saves the song from being the second chink in armour, it is incredibly close to being another throw away track.  "25 Hours" is a more spiky number, sounding like the punk has came to the track; but then it falls down to another slowed down, uninspiring number which is not something I would have expected from one of my most favourite guitarist.  It comes across as a sub-Bloc Party number, this main is supposed to be an influence, not fall under the influence.  "The Trap" is next and out of all the slower numbers on this album, it is the most thought provoking.  It is not trying to be a moody number, all drama, posturing and not substance (something I would not have thought I would ever accuse Mr Marr of doing), it is not making any excitement or improving the overall mood of the album, yet it is still interesting enough to raise a smile on my face.  The title track is next and all of a sudden I am back in the 80's and expecting the dandy highway man to come through the wall with that introduction.  The retro sound of the song is infectious, but it is tainted slight by the fact that one of the better numbers of the album is also a number that is looking backwards. Such a good number, mixed in with a slice of regret for this listener.

"Speak Out Reach Out" once again goes for the moody slow number, but this time it hits the spot with a flair that has been sadly lacking for a lot of this album.  Whilst it is not reinventing the wheel, it is not trying to keep up with the neighbours or looking towards the past either.  It is just a number that keeps the going until you submit to its will.  The fact it is his third or fourth attempt at this number on this album says more about persistence than anything.  "Boys Get Straight" is just awful, sorry I cannot say anything nice about this number and I was brought up to on the phrase - If you have nothing nice to say about something, say nothing at all.  Sometimes I break that rule, not on this one; just awful.  The penultimate song of the album is "This Tension" is another slow burner that makes up for a lot of what has gone on before in this album, the moody playing is back, the keys are still there (more about them and other aspects later) and Mr Marr is actually a decent vocalist.  It might be that this track is that it follows on from "Boys Get Straight".  It still has more interest in it than some other bands I have heard this year.  Ending the album is "Little King" and it ends with a bit of an energetic flair that has been sadly lacking on this album.  It is a tale of too little, too late at this point; but at least it is something that could be looked at in the next release maybe?

I cannot view this album as anything other than a disappointment, much like "The Messenger".  Johnny Marr once said - I like to put the right note in the right place, and my influences have always been those kinds of players - but on this album there are too many things going on and notes at times where if he stripped it back a bit, a little would mean more.  There are keyboards in every space, as well as guitars and bass, with drums when sometimes a space or gap would enhance the number.  It also seems to have four really good ideas spread out over 11 tracks, with various results and in some places just an awful track which again is something I would never have wanted to say about a number that Johnny Marr was involved with.  It feels as if he is trying to make up for lost time and place as much into his music as possible.  I understand that, but this album could have been a little better if trimmed down and just some of the numbers stripped down to the bare bones.  I will still follow Mr Marr as he is a truly brilliant talent, but I am sorry to say that this year he has been beaten by Mr Morrissey.  

3 out of ten - Not for everyone but played well

Top track - Back In The Box

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit Johnny Marr website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Here is a link to Deezer for the album if you use this service

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