I liked the Smiths as much as anyone, in fact, I liked them to the point that I saw them 20 times in six different countries. I loved them, OK?
But that was a long, long time ago baby, and they ain't comin' back. Plus, you know, I grew up and everything. You can only be Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now for so long.
So I just don't get why people were so frigging disappointed when Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr released his snakily-named solo album Boomslang a few years ago. It's not like he hasn't done anything and everything since the Smiths broke up, from playing with the Pretenders and Bryan Ferry to the Pet Shop Boys (what that chiming guitar did to "Birthday Boy" could make a stone weep).
I also don't get the criticism of his voice. Does someone, somewhere, think MORRISSEY has a great voice? PSB's Neil Tennant? The The's Matt Johnson? Distinctive voices, yes, but great? Not so much. Marr's voice is fine, neither great nor bad, and fits the music well. Do we need more, when he plays guitar like that?
Boomslang came out to great expectations and decidedly mixed reviews. Rolling Stone hated it, Guitar Player loved it. And I'm damn glad I heard it before I read the forty-plus reviews on Amazon, because I probably would never have bought it if I'd read them first, and that would have been a shame. Because I really don't care if I'm in the minority, I think Boomslang is terrific. And I think the reason the legions of Smiths fans didn't like it is because it's a straight-up progressive rock album and it doesn't carry even the tiniest little tinge of angst or agony.
If you like your guitars to thrash and scream, you won't like Johnny Marr's guitar playing. It's subtle, layered, textured, and yes, can definitely be poppy. It's also technically astonishing, and a lot of musicians think so, too, given that he's played with the Pretenders, the Talking Heads, the Pet Shop Boys, The The, Kirsty MacColl, Bryan Ferry, Billy Bragg, Beck, and his group with Joy Division/New Order's Bernard Sumner, Electronic.
Electronic has produced some very good albums, but they're definitely not for your average rock fan .... which I suppose is fairly obvious from the name of the band. If you are allergic to dance/electronica but want to check them out, start with Twisted Tenderness, their third album, as Marr's guitar comes to the forefront (and it was criticized by many New Order fans as being "too rock").
But Boomslang isn't going to send rock fans into shock. There are no synthesizers, and Marr is backed by Zak Starkey (the most recent drummer to put his butt in Keith Moon's seat behind the Who, as well as current drummer for Oasis, which I try not to hold against him since he's a much better drummer than his father, Ringo Starr) on drums and Kula Shaker's Alonza Bevan on bass.
I'm not trying to mislead you; this is not a rock classic, and you won't die if you never hear it. His lyrics are kind of bland, and his voice is average at best.