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. But it's the strengths of Marr's sophomore LP that are also its downfall, as soaring string bends ("Candidate") and propulsive riffing (album opener "Back in the Box") end up nowhere in particular, with most of the album's 11 tracks hitting a mellow middle ground with nary a climactic crescendo in sight. Lead single "Easy Money" is easily the most captivating of the tracks here, what with its new millennium dance punk rhythm and repetitive vocals, but like the rest of the album, it feels a bit staid after multiple listens.
Back in 2004, when the world was still enamoured with Franz Ferdinand and Morrissey released a rare album to critical acclaim, this record would have been gangbusters. But in 2014 this just seems like the kind of better-than-average album that befalls way too many British musicians past their prime.
Read our recent Questionnaire with Johnny Marr here.