New Voodoo Records/Warners
Sometime, a while ago, not exactly sure when, Johnny Marr reached some sort of weird “untouchable” status, but only in indie circles, mind. He’s not having his Springsteen/Dylan moment – and arguably never will. But for a guy who, call a spade a spade (or, er axe) is only a guitarist – that’s what he brings to the table (and twiddles) – he’s had a lot of accolades thrown his way. Far too many given his output over the last quarter century has been restricted to interesting, tasteful sideman gigs – and then a handful of higher-profile stunts playing in middling indie-wannabes, or as extra wheel in a group that doesn’t need it, or, you know, denying exactly how many solo albums he’s made. Because – hint!– the first one was really fucking awful.
Most of the criticisms I have of Playland can be carried over from what I said last year about his “debut”, The Messenger – and indeed I’ve started this review with much the same tone.
But if Marr’s going to repeat himself in quick succession, I figure…
Add to the list of platitudes-dressed-up-as-praise, we’ll now hear no doubt about the fire that’s been lit, about the flame that flickers, about the late-career blooming and/or booming – about how Marr must be on fire given he’s followed up the last record so quickly. But it’s easy to follow up a fairly shitty record with another fairly shitty record isn’t it? I mean obviously I’m guessing – but it would seem that Marr has/is the proof.
Playland sounds like it’s desperate to be some sort of pop album – though it’s clear Marr has no real idea what pop music is (anymore) – and though you might just be able to place the guitar sound on the third track here, Dynamo, you won’t exactly want to hear the song. For the most part Marr’s guitar is buried this time around – there are traces I guess, always. The intro to Candidate, that glide he has – and it’s unmistakably his (25 Hours) but the songs just don’t stand up.
And the album takes so long to get going – and then never (really) does.
He’s made a weaker record than The Messenger. That was at least a half a good album, though never a great album. This on the other hand is full of pop cheese. The best that this can offer only grates.
It’s also further proof that Marr is no sort of frontman, that’s his curse. He needs to get the band back together, but he doesn’t want to. Nor does the other guy. He tried slipping into a few other bands, that sorta worked, but clearly he wants more. Really, he should be giving his fans less. Even some of them will surely agree when they hear the ugly Cure aping of the title track here. It sounds like a Bob bereft of ideas – and even the most dedicated of The Cure Faithful know that Mr Smith has worked out to keep quiet (recording-wise) for the most part when he doesn’t have something to say.
Playland isn’t entirely awful – but that’s not the selling point for someone who has (actually) won an award that was (actually) for “Godlike Genius”. Unfortunately the blindly faithful will tell themselves that there’s all sorts to hear here, things that reveal themselves with time. But who has time anymore?
Let them tell themselves. Just don’t let them tell you any of that nonsense.
Speak Out/Reach Out sounds like Weller doing Oasis (when sometimes all Oasis ever wanted was to do Weller), Boys Get Straight sounds like a wooden-voiced Smiths B-side; some demo that might have stood a chance when Moz stepped up to croon, This Tension sounds like it wants to be off David Bowie’s Scary Monsters but doesn’t quite know how to ask.
Oh, and these are the ‘good’ songs.
As with The Messenger this album does actually offer more, song-wise, the deeper into it you stumble. But Marr still sounds like he’s the one stumbling – and floundering on those early numbers particularly. So desperate to give the suits a fluke-reason to market the shit out the album or something. The shit needed to be removed instead, a taut EP would have worked almost. Fans only want the pre-souvenir before going to the show. They’ll hang it on the wall after.
It’s all at odds. And mostly this is very odd. Sometimes it’s painfully shitty and always it’s painfully obvious that Marr can’t sing to carry an album, can’t front a band or front up to be any sort of frontperson.
But he was in The Smiths. You know that. That’s why you’ve read this far. You’re buying the album anyway. And a second copy. And that’ll teach me!
Ah, but when will you learn yourself? (How soon is never?)