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Johnny Marr steps out front with the sunny rock of the Healers

Morrissey got most of the attention in the Smiths for his wry lyrical take on British drudgery, but it was Johnny Marr's emotional music that really anchored the band. Now, with his new group, the Healers, there's no avoiding Marr's strong songwriting and guitar playing. Formed in 2000 with drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) and ex—Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevan, the combo is Marr's first project as a frontman.

This change is significant, for since the Smiths split in 1987, Marr's been most comfortable in a secondary role, abetting The The's Matt Johnson and Electronic's Bernard Sumner, and supplying melodies for Beth Orton and Oasis' Liam Gallagher. There must be unspeakable pressure on a guy who formed an iconic act as a teenager over 20 years ago, but Marr seems comfortable with his new leading role.

Although Marr has embraced electronic music and digital technology in his post-Smiths work, the Healers play straight-ahead rock -- albeit the kind with treated guitars and a few funky electronic bass lines (check "You Are the Magic," one of the standout cuts from the group's new album, Boomslang). Marr's voice is understated and barely sure of itself, which results in sweet tones that tend to either float atop or get subsumed within the wall of guitars. Lyrically, the Healers are far more positive than the Smiths, leaving the listener with a sunnier outlook. Perhaps life without Moz makes everything feel that much brighter.

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