Here’s your philosophical question of the day: What would The Smiths have sounded like without Morrissey? The answer is not one hand clapping or the deafening sound of silence. It’s the sound of Johnny Marr, The Smiths’ lead guitarist and co-songwriter. While many people, including myself, often lazily refer to “The Smiths” and “Morrissey” interchangeably, Marr’s new solo album Playland has forced me to issue an official correction: The Smiths were way more of a dual effort than I thought, and Marr deserves tons of appreciation and attention after a career consisting mainly of collaborations and guest spots.
Playland is bright, professional, exacting and downright pleasurable rock and roll. For a short moment, perhaps during one of the more formulaic tracks on the album, I thought Marr’s second solo effort might be traveling down a well-worn path of ’80s-era pop rock with nothing more to offer. But then I remembered—oh, yeah—Marr basically blazed that trail in the first place. He can walk it whenever he damn well pleases, and apparently I will still gladly listen. What the album lacks when it comes to providing a “new sound” or “fresh innovation,” it more than makes up for by being high-quality, skilled and sparkling. From an original creator, as a movie trailer voiceover might say. Marr is in his own personal playland here, and I feel privileged to visit. If you don’t believe me, try listening to the album’s single, “Easy Money,” without being just plain thrilled about it.
Johnny Marr plays the Top Hat Mon., Dec. 1. Doors open at 7 PM, show at 8. $30 at tophatlounge.com.