Playland is the second album from Johnny Marr in only 18 months: a sense of urgency that is audible in this record but in no way impeaches the quality. It is every bit a satisfying sequel to The Messenger as it is a one-off read. Marr can be afforded the luxury of writing a personal album this time around because he has already proved himself as a solo artist.
Frantic opener ‘Back In The Box’ is a celebration of euphoria, the racing melody sounds like serotonin coursing through your bloodstream. This blends co-operatively into cruelly catchy lead single ‘Easy Money’, which boasts an infectious hook and simplistic, repetitive chorus. This song will undoubtedly – ironically – earn Marr easy money indeed: it’s an ostentatious, provocative track that screams “commercial success”. In ‘Easy Money’ temptation is wearing a dress made out of banknotes, seducing the listener as they press download and their bank account is debited for 99p.
This album is conceptually vested in the philosophy of Homo Ludens, the work of Dutch philosopher and essayist Johan Huizinga. The title of Huizinga’s musings translates as ‘Playing Man’ – therefore it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out why Marr’s own creation is titled ‘Playland’. It appears life is a game, and we’re all dealt a different hand each round. We make choices based on the cards we hold and we encounter obstacles that other players may simply be able to step over. At the end of the day, we are competing with one another to survive. ‘This Tension’ epitomises the competitive element of man as Marr croons “I’m a conceptual son / with an intellectual gun”. Knowledge is power, after all. This track is built on a foreboding melody that certainly sounds like liquid tension and has echoes of John Cooper Clarke in the spoken word that concludes the track.
Developing Huizinga’s concept, Marr told NME that this album is about “the chase”: in less enigmatic terms, temptation in its many guises. Highlights are the rifftastic ‘Dynamo’ (which sounds like watching characters driving off into the sunset at the end of a movie) and eery ‘Candidate’, which has a broody yet simultaneously anthemic quality. The biggest disappointment is perhaps ‘Playland’ itself – there’s simply too much going on. If sounding like attempting to grab a sandwich from Gregg’s in your fifteen minute lunch break, without getting run over by the 51 on your way back to the office is what Marr was going for with this track, then credit to him, but it’s safe to say it doesn’t do much for me.
Overall, with Playland good ol’ Johnny has reaffirmed that he is an excellent guitarist, demonstrated an ability to consistently write pertinent lyrics and whilst also demonstrating vocal talent by far beyond the expectations of the listener. The listener is glad that this time around Marr is not shunning his musical past in an effort to prove his independence; they pick up on hints of The Smiths in ‘Boys Get Straight’ but they appreciate Marr’s own voice in the absence of Morrissey’s. There’s only one way of putting it, really: blooming Marrvellous.