Johnny Marr has always been graded on a curve. With the Smiths, the now-50-year-old Marr managed to check off “Write music for, coproduce and sometimes manage world-historical British rock band” prior to turning 24 years old. No wonder he seems to have been coasting ever since.
Or is he just following his muse? If your place in history was secure before you could legally rent a car, you, too, might be into the pure musicianship of sideman-hood (everyone from The The and Bryan Ferry to Modest Mouse and the Crabs) or oddball collaborations with pals (Electronic). As much as any musician of his generation, Marr has nothing to prove.
Nevertheless, on Playland, as on his solo debut, one is reminded quickly that his ex-partner is one of the smartest, funniest lyricists of all time and Marr is…still a magnificent, singular guitarist. He remains expert in chime and riff and both at the same time (like on the stellar hook underpinning the single “Easy Money”). Then you crash into the lyrics (“I used to want it all/ And that’s money money”) and you wish for him a second set of eyes or a Robert Hunter or something. But as always, his guitar is there to save him — check out the way the riff on “Dynamo” opens up to the heavens and all is forgiven.