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. Which makes sense: Marr never had as high a profile or ego as Morrissey, and that low-key humility has made him a fan favorite.
But who knew that the least satisfying thing Johnny Marr could ever do would be launching a solo career? Yet here we are with Playland, the second official solo album by the former Smiths guitarist (or third, if you count Boomslang, his 2003 album released under the name Johnny Marr & the Healers). There’s not a sizeable difference between Playland and last year’s The Messenger. Both feature listless songcraft, lackluster vocals, and a dull pulverization of every Britpop trope imaginable (not that imagination had anything to do with the making of this record). Worst of all, though, is the oppressive truth lurking behind almost every tired lick and lazy lyric of Playland: Marr can, and has, done so much better.
We root for him, though, and in return he gives us “Easy Money”, Playland’s lead single, a silly, clumsy fumble of a song that can’t click into shape. Is it supposed to remind us that money is a bad thing, or that it’s ironic how millionaire musicians still feel the need to sing about it? It doesn’t matter, because the song’s only notable element is Marr’s perpetually dated musical taste, as the slashing, squelching rock of “Easy Money” feels about as fresh and inspired as Kaiser Chiefs.
Playland isn’t all bad: “Boys Get Straight” is as breakneck as the Smiths’ “London”, and that energy almost carries it over the finish line, despite a poverty of hooks. “Little King” isn’t any more original—its sinuous intro could be a page in the Echo & the Bunnymen songbook, an nearly funny gesture seeing as how the Bunnymen were one of the Smiths’ chief rivals in the ’80s— but Marr spins that into a tuneful, propulsive bit of diversion anyway. The album’s title track is its only glimmer of Marr’s worship of vintage glam, but what might have started out as filthy, flashy rock in the practice space has been pasteurized to the point of blankness.
Marr’s tendency to sing like his former Electronic bandmate, New Order’s Bernard Sumner, might be flattering to Sumner but proves embarrassing otherwise; the pinched, boyish, breathy style serves Marr adequately on tracks like “Dynamo” and “The Trap”, but it doesn’t come across as conveying emotion and melody as much as it does him doing vocal exercises. If his curious status as a New Order/Joy Division fanboy is in question, he titles two consecutive tracks on Playland— either consciously or not — after Joy Division songs: “Candidate” and “25 Hours”. They do exhibit a trickle-down trace of that same dark, stark atmosphere, but rather than coming across as an homage, the resemblance seems fawning at best, insecure at worst.
A lack of effort isn’t the main problem with Playland; if anything, there’s been too much effort put into it. It’s been fussed over so much that any spark that may have spurred it has been smothered. As Marr continues to staple pages to his résumé—and the prospect of a Smiths reunion becomes even more remote—the disconnect between the iconic architect of ’80s indie and the journeyman who’d rather follow than lead grows. In an interview with the NME, Marr cited “boredom” as a big inspiration on Playland, and all it takes is a listen to prove it.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1s6eeQ8