Johnny Marr and the Healers

Boomslang (ARTISTdirect)

Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr's first solo album opens with the droning, midtempo psychedelia of "Last Ride," and the album doesn't stray far from this vein--pleasant, electronic-tinged classic rock, unsurprising and delivered with dexterity. The gratifying shock is Marr's voice, which is workmanlike in the best possible sense, alternately streetwise and wistful. In "Caught Up," the music's infectious, fuzzy, druggy jangle descends into a minor-chord chorus, both echoing and immediate, and the graceful "Something to Shout About," punctuated by a haunting melodica solo, is reflective and poignant.

Unfortunately, Marr spends a lot of time here (too much, really) singing about an undefined "it"; as in Need "It," Feel "It," Show "It." Comparisons are unfair but inevitable--the hyper-literate Morrissey would have told his listeners precisely what "it" was and perhaps how "it" had made him feel. The vague and non-topical lyrics are the album's Achilles heel, reaching their nadir in "Need It" with the ultimate throwaway line, "Whatever if you know what I mean." (No, not really, Johnny.) With a thimbleful more effort and enthusiasm, this could have been a stunning debut rather than a passable one.

 
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