I was a bit apprehensive about Johnny Marr's debut as a frontman. Sure, he's the best guitarist in, like, the world, but there's a reason -- several reasons, in fact -- that Dave Grohl is one of the few people to date who've actually made a "solo" project work. The biggest of these reasons is heightened expectations, and those are pretty much impossible to overcome -- the Foo Fighters will never hold a candle to Nirvana, and I'll rate The Queen is Dead
(or anything by The The) any day. That doesn't mean that Johnny Marr and the Healers aren't a good band in their own right, but The Smiths have nostalgia and familiarity on their side, which means they'll usually come out on top in a comparison.
However, pretend Boomslang was put out by some no-name band (it's actually pretty easy to do) and the result is both good and bad. You might be tempted to give Marr a break for his shortcomings based on earlier accomplishments, even as you're judging him against them. And I'll say this right out: Intrinsically, this is a good album. It is not a mind-blowingly great one.
The guitar work, predictably, is very good, with Marr waxing psychedelic on otherwise fairly uncomplicated numbers like "Caught Up" and "Need It". The other band members (bassist Alonza Bevan and drummer Zak Starkey) hold down their end well, with solid bass and some very impressive drumming. However nice the guitar sounds, though, it's hard to ignore the fact that it's dressing up songs that would be a bit dull without it. Boomslang is an album of gems scattered among rocks. Almost every track has good parts in it -- like the stand-out drumming and shout of a guitar solo in "Bangin' On", or "The Last Ride"'s reverb-soaked spaciousness. The deep, undulating basslines and Marr's rather nasal effect-augmented vocals -- which are perfectly adequate but less than inspirational -- show a heavy Oasis influence, albeit with more rock and less psychedelia. While this is quite easy on the ears, it's something we've all heard before. These songs do grow on you with repeated listens... but they ultimately fail to make an indelible impression.