Marcy Playground – Marcy Playground
Released February 25th, 1997 on Capitol Records
One of these days I plan on doing a listicle called “Ten Albums From The 90s That Aren’t As Bad As You Remember” and #1 on that list is Marcy Playground. Also, Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase and Live’s Throwing Copper, but that’s beside the point. Marcy Playground is one of the most criminally overlooked album of the Nineties, but at the same time it’s completely understandable as to why that occurred. The band’s first single, “Sex And Candy” was…well, you know it. Don’t pretend like you don’t. You’ve sung along to it, and I don’t particularly care how old “you” are. You like sex, and you like candy, and you like “Sex And Candy”. Unfortunately, it was 1997, and one hit wonders were par for the course for alternative rock by then. Remember Seven Mary Three? The Nixons? Chumbawumba? Semisonic? Marcy Playground is counted in those ranks, because “Sex And Candy” was huge, the other singles from the album didn’t make much of a dent in the radio, and the follow-up, 1999’s Shapeshifter, was listened to by approximately seven people worldwide.
So why are we marking the anniversary? It’s because Marcy Playground is something of a lost gem. It is a much better album than it has a right to be, and that all comes down to John Wozniak’s winsome songs that feature very dark shadows lurking in the corners. “Poppies” almost feels educational, with lyrics about the British opium trade with China, until you realize that the fate being sealed that he’s talking about is heroin. Heroin also features, implied or explicit, in “Ancient Walls Of Flowers”, “The Vampires Of New York”, and “Opium”. “Gone Crazy”, in context of the other songs, feels somewhat sinister, and “One More Suicide” is pretty much what it says on the tin. “Saint Joe On The School Bus” is about getting bullied mercilessly, and “The Shadow Of Seattle” posits a rainy war on art. The moments of levy stick out all the more for the darkness that shrouds the indie-pop arrangements: “Sherry Fraser” is about old love, “A Cloak Of Elvenkind” is a peaceful little song about Dungeons and Dragons and parental disapproval, and the ubiquitous “Sex And Candy” is a jumble of vaguely sexy non-sentences, capped with a hook that is an inside joke about Wozniak having sex with his girlfriend in her dorm room. The arrangements are tight, the guitars have just the right shade of grunge crunch without being histrionic and overbearing, and the hooks are goddamn barbed.
As I said before, the band would go on to do pretty much nothing in terms of mainstream exposure, although they keep releasing albums for a fanbase that must exist somewhere. Right? There are people out there that listen to Marcy Playground albums? Wozniak isn’t just releasing these albums into the void for no one to listen to, like I do? Who knows. Marcy Playground stands as their legacy, though, an album that will continue to be remembered even if it’s just because “Sex And Candy” is such an iconic Nineties song. There are worse positions for a band to be in.