The band-hopping former Smiths man is back with his second solo effort Playland, and with it he brings a new found freshness that will have fans eager for more. Some might argue starting a review in this way ruins the process of reading through and finding out at the end whether the reviewer thought the album was good or bad – but to hell with it, this record is quality and not worth holding back the praise till later on.
Everything has come together perfectly for Playland. Messing around and experimenting in different bands such as Modest Mouse and The Cribs has done Johnny a world of good, kept up his street cred and taught him some new tricks along the way. Dynamo, with its gentle Smiths influence poking its head above the waves, nose-dives into a typical Johnny wall of sound; its energy is the track’s appeal, backed up by a strong flowing melody. Back in the Box is a fast paced, adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster ride, whereas 25 Hours reminds us of Marrs’ variety and talent with a guitar. Johnny is such a decent ‘riff writer’ that bands would fight over the scraps he throws away.
Although some may focus on the guitar parts, where this album really shines is the use of drums and bass. Album-titled track Playland uses these instruments to form a perfectly balanced performance that is set apart from the rest, with Johnny shouting his way throughout, wanting to ‘push the button to a higher plane’. This Tension’s gentle guitar sits happily under a leading riff with the drum and bass again taking centre stage to lift the song to new heights.
The great thing about this album is there’s so much going on that you don’t notice until much later on; it really is a Playland. It’s one of those rare albums where you enjoy it the first time, but the more you here it, the more it satisfies you for different reasons; it’s a grower and a shower. Although the lyrics can seem somewhat tangled and distant at times, the overall technique and experience on offer here is a wonder to behold, and makes the album a mixed bag of loveliness.