Review Summary: Mary Playground's self-titled debut is a great album that exceeds its reputation.
Long forgotten by the masses that made "Sex and Candy" a huge hit in the United States – the song spent a record breaking fifteen weeks at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock charts, Marcy Playground is an obvious example of either wasted potential, bad luck or a combination of the two. I don't know, I haven't heard either of the band's follow up records, Shapeshifter
. But considering the successes of Marcy Playground
, artistically and commercially, one would think that the New York-based band would be able to escape the one-hit wonder tag.
Regardless, Mary Playground's self-titled debut is a great album that exceeds its reputation as the record that had "Sex and Candy". While it's certainly true that the song, a late-90s alt-rock classic in its own right, is the unchallenged standout track of the album, there is more to Marcy Playground
than the hit single. "Poppies", for example is an upbeat song based around an anthemic guitar riff akin to something out of an Oasis album. The song is rather goofy lyrically, detailing a vague (and probably inaccurate) account of England's opium discovery, highlighted by lead singer John Wozniak's proclamation of "poppies
!" It isn't a very serious song, but its lively sound compliments the lyrics extremely well, which makes for an appealing listen.
drops the fun, bouncy sound rather quickly, however. The next song, the aforementioned "Sex and Honey", carries a much more relaxed, carefree mood than its predecessor; a sound which much better represents the both band's song writing style as well as the album's direction. Wozniak's casual vocal drawl is the band's greatest asset in songs like "Sex and Honey" and "Saint Joe on a School Bus". That isn't to discredit the infectious alt rock grooves of the latter, as they certainly play a lasting role in the album's appeal. "The Shadow of Seattle" is evidence of this. Though the song, like the majority of the record, is nearly all acoustic it has the most aggressive build, particularly during the choruses which convey more of a grunge sound than the rest of the album.
While the majority of their debut album is your standard alternative rock fair, Marcy Playground occasionally drifts from their established formula. In "One More Suicide" and "The Vampires of New York" the band adds folk rock elements to their music, particularly in the former, in which Wozniak puts on his best Neil Young impression. "Ancient Wall of Flowers" explores a bluesier sound, culminating with a clean guitar solo. It's these songs, though, that are Marcy Playground
's weakest. Each of these songs have their flaws, ranging from the aggravating vocal work in "One More Suicide", to the awkward flow of "The Vampires of New York", to the alterna-blues sound in "Ancient Wall of Flowers", which just doesn't sound very good. They're catchy tracks, I'll give them that, but on an album where nearly every song is really catchy, they just don't get the job done.
As easy as it is to write off Marcy Playground for their meagre efforts over the last nine years, their self-titled album is worth listening to. At around thirty-four to thirty-five minutes, the record is quite short, but this only furthers to enhance the listen as Marcy Playground manages to pack substance into their songs while keeping things concise at the same time. It has its faults for sure, but by no means is it a poor offering. It's just too bad Marcy Playground couldn't capitalize on their success.