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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Johnny Marr is so money supermarket

Johnny Marr Playland (Warner Music)

That he remains one of Britain's most musically literate guitarists shouldn't come as a surprise.

The contribution he made during the four glorious years of The Smiths both rescued the electric guitar from slipping into pantomime and ensured Johnny Marr's place in the history books.

When he quit The Smiths he was 23. He's now 50. And remains the mythical winged eel fingerling most young guitarists dream of one day becoming.

Where was he for the past 27 years, while his former band-mate Morrissey expanded his repertoire with a series of 10 solo studio albums?

Last year, when he released his debut solo album The Messenger, Marr corrected the misconception that he'd simply been a hired session player flitting from gig to gig.

When examined, his stints with The The, Electronic (with Bernard Sumner) and American band Modest Mouse were lengthy and meaningful.

He was a full-time recording and touring member of each group. "I've been in all my favourite bands," he explained. "I feel like the luckiest guitar player in the world."

Crackle

Although billed as Johnny Marr, both The Messenger and this new collection of 11 tracks come with the dynamic crackle of a seasoned touring band. Marr believes in the power of a band. It's what he grew up on. And he has no plans to change now.

Most of the songs on Playland sound as if they were recorded by a touring band determined to capture the energy of some particularly fiery gigs.

The opening track Back In The Box is a straight-ahead belter. The album's first single, Easy Money, is a turbo-charged rock disco monster with nods to Chic and Tamla Motown. The catchiest song Marr's written, it has a nursery rhyme simplicity that's sure to have the advertising agencies queueing up.

Yes, folks, Johnny's so money supermarket.

He's a good guy, too. When Oasis were a struggling young band, Johnny gave Noel Gallagher one of his best guitars. When Noel broke it in a mill onstage, Johnny gave him another one.

He's still master of the jangle that's commonly associated with The Smiths. But he's also added a whole range of techniques to his armoury.

Monster riffs come in layers, some swathed in sheets of electronica, propelled by thunderous drums and expansive bass.

This Tension chimes like The Cure's A Forest updated. Title track, Playland, with Johnny urging "come alive, come alive", rattles along with all the verve of the New York Dolls on the rampage.

Producing and collaborating with James Doviak, Marr brings a hint of menace to proceedings by adding some electro harshness to the vocals on the hymn of defiance, 25 Hours.

"All I need is myself," snarls Marr.

There's a whiff of political protest off these tunes, with Johnny adopting a Situationist stance and switching complicated lyric writing for sloganeering.

It could be he's getting even better with age.

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