Johnny Marr returns to rock roots on ‘Playland’

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Fittingly for the man who co-wrote “How Soon Is Now,” Johnny Marr doesn’t believe in living in the past.

The former guitarist for The Smiths has just released his second solo album, “Playland,” a follow-up his well-received “The Messenger” in 2013. Both offer robust, richly textured guitar rock — the latest of Marr’s many musical modes.

Since The Smiths split in 1987 — leaving Marr, then 23, already a guitar hero — he has worked with electronic outfit The The, joined post-punk supergroup Electronic, fronted Johnny Marr and the Healers, collaborated with indie rockers Modest Mouse and contributed to the soundtracks for “Inception” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

He rarely seems to rest, much less rest on his laurels.

“The idea of a musician sitting around with a bottle of wine listening to his old recordings seems really a somewhat tragic waste of time to me,” Marr said over the phone from a stop on his British tour.

With his two solo records, “I kind of feel like I’ve settled into the thing I wanted to do.” He says his goals “are surprisingly simple and obvious. They’re things like wanting to have the best live band around.”

To that end he’s keeping up a brisk pace of performances, including almost 30 dates in the U.S. and Canada starting Nov 9.

Marr, 50, knows he will never escape the shadow of The Smiths, the 1980s Manchester band that melded his jagged guitar and the sardonic-poetic lyrics of singer Morrissey into the defining sound for indie-loving introverts around the world.

Short-lived but long-admired, the band is among 15 nominees this year for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — though Marr dismisses the idea of induction as about as likely as a Smiths reunion. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

“I don’t really see it as a serious situation,” Marr said of the Hall of Fame nod.

Though best known as a collaborator, Marr says becoming a frontman wasn’t a huge leap.

“It doesn’t feel like alien territory for me,” he said. “I didn’t have to jump through any psychological hoops.

“I’ve been doing this now since I was 14, 15 in various permutations. … I used to front bands occasionally, and other times I would join bands, and sometimes I would have a singer working with me. So the role from a musical point (of view) is not entirely new to me.”

He is, he says, an optimist. “I’ve always felt like a really great song is around the corner.”

And he has no truck with aging rockers who lament the decline of popular music. He rattles off a list of young bands that impress him, including Palma Violets, Childhood, Menace Beach and Mimicking Birds.

“I think it’s corny and somewhat arrogant to think that your time was better,” Marr said.

“I know people who grew up in the ’60s and they are very keen to remind me that it wasn’t all the Small Faces and the Kinks and the Beatles. There has always been mainstream corporate crap everywhere.

“There is this idea that that’s all there is now, but there’s always going to be young people who are making good music.”


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