Release Date: Oct 7, 2014
Record label: New Voodoo
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There probably aren’t too many comparisons you can draw between Johnny Marr’s fledgling career as a solo artist and Morrissey’s 26 years of heroic ups, disastrous downs and occasional exiles. Nevertheless, both men have found recent success by adopting pretty much the same approach, arguably the only sensible one for fifty-something indie-rock godheads to take: preach to the converted. As such, there was little in the way of boundary-pushing on Marr’s last album, 2013’s ‘The Messenger’, but then, there was never supposed to be.
If there’s ever been a musician who’s earned the privilege of copping a little bit of limelight for himself, Johnny Marr is unquestionably the guy. As the architect of the jangly guitar sound that woke legions of indie, dream pop, and alternative rock bands out of their slumbering cocoons in the mid to late ’80s, he’s plenty deserving of every accolade that’s been tossed his way over the years. But if we’re to read anything into his rather humble post-Smiths career, it’s that he’s perhaps something of a reluctant rock star.
“Power pop” is so often a label which has attracted derision. But it has had its moments in the sun: the Knack’s “My Sharona”, which topped the US charts for six weeks in the summer of 1979, was an irresistible confection of muscular beat and melody; the Flamin’ Groovies mid-‘70s classic, “Shake Some Action”, a jingle-jangle pop heaven. Even Oasis, with the immortal “Slide Away” on their first album dabbled with power pop – although they would never have admitted it, and of course “Britpop” was a much trendier and more convenient flag under which to promote their wall-of-sound omnipotence.
Of all people in this murky world of indie rock, you want Johnny Marr to succeed. He always comes across as decent, he’s got a supernatural gift for attaching himself to cool projects - the Cribs, Modest Mouse, the Inception soundtrack, and frankly you can stick The Smiths under that heading too - he’s a well-liked, arch collaborator who knows who to work with, and fundamentally how to make them better. Even his first solo album, 2003’s Boomslang wasn’t really “solo”, released as a three piece of jamming musicians under the name Johnny Marr & The Healers.
Johnny Marr is undoubtedly one of the most underrated guitarists of his time. Sure, Smiths aficionados will always have a soft spot in their heart for the Mancunian's electric melodies and open-strummed indie rock songs. The 50-year-old tunesmith has spent the latter half of his career quietly refining riffs while working as a sideman for the likes of the Pretenders, Modest Mouse and the Cribs.On his second solo album, Playland, Marr sounds more technically adept than ever.
Just like waiting for a bus, it is. Over 30 years in the music business before The Smiths’ guitaring god Johnny Marr released an album, yet 18 months later another arrives. Last year’s effort – The Messenger – surprised many, and not only those that had steered clear of his band Johnny Marr And The Healers, where his adequately capable vocals first appeared in earnest.
It is rare to find universal goodwill for a musician like that which Johnny Marr receives. The guitar superstar and Smiths formidable co-captain isn't one to wallow in his past. In the quarter century since that group's break-up, Marr has lent his skills to a range of musicians. From collaborating with Beck to Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads to The The, and temporarily joining The Pretenders, The Cribs, and Modest Mouse, Marr has been content to reflect his limelight onto others until last year.
In the Smiths, Marr was the preeminent guitar stylist of his generation. Glam, folk-rock, post-punk, funk, rockabilly, and a certain ineffable Marrness— that ringing, swinging, intricate, atmospheric, hook-dripping soul— all dovetailed into a sound that still stuns. But while his erstwhile Smiths-mate Morrissey has taken his own primrose path down self-parodying mediocrity with this year’s World Peace Is None of Your Business, Marr is doing the same on a lesser scale with his solo career.
Johnny Marr is one of rock's great accompanists. Filled with wicked guitar salvos and shiny, barbed hooks, his latest solo project is a reminder of how many bands have made careers jacking his sound. This is the true article: Flashbacks of the Smiths abound, and Marr's slitheringly serrated lines on Modest Mouse's great 2007 hit ''Dashboard'' are echoed here on ''Easy Money.'' But by the 14th repetition of the phrase ''money money,'' you recall that his earlier bands' greatness involved upending lyrical clichés, which this set doesn't.
Johnny Marr always wanted nothing more than to play guitar in a rock & roll band, so once he finally got his solo career off the ground in 2013 with The Messenger, he couldn't stop. As he toured the album, he continued to write new songs, then he took his touring band back into the studio with producer Doviak -- the same collaborator as on the 2013 record -- to knock out Playland. Unsurprisingly, the 2014 sequel feels cut from the same cloth as The Messenger, containing the same blend of classicist British pop values and modernist rock production that constitutes something of a throwback to the pre-Brit-pop '90s.
Johnny Marr used to be in The Smiths, right? He was also in The The, Electronic and more recently Modest Mouse and The Cribs. That’s pretty cool. Flippancy aside, that roll call doesn’t even touch on his work on the Inception soundtrack, his brief tenures as sideman for Billy Bragg and collaborator of the Pet Shop Boys. With apologies for trotting out the usual points of reference, the jist is that Marr has little to prove.