As the sole author of Set the Boy Free, his voice is romantic not rowdy, more cosmic than chaotic ... Marr’s meeting with Morrissey – the biggest selling point of this book – is approached sweetly...He writes with palpable joy about their friendship and music, a mood often ignored in light of the band’s messy split ... But Set the Boy Free is much more than an obituary for a brilliant band. It’s also a love letter to the women in Marr’s life – his wife Angie, whom he met at 15, and musicians such as Kirsty MacColl and Chrissie Hynde.
The richest passage of the book describes a long, solo songwriting weekend ... At other times, explanation of the songwriting is absent of any details at all. It can be quite common among musicians to describe songs simply arriving, a crutch Marr also leans on, thought he at least writes of the circumstances under which spontaneous song arrival can occur ... though Marr’s directness is refreshing, his account too often centers on simply telling what happened, lacking true revelations or a deeper insight into why The Smiths connected so deeply and have endured so strongly in the three decades since the band broke up. Still, Marr’s prose is sharpest and most engaging when writing about music.
...[a] breezy, often scattered autobiography ... For every Bruce Springsteen who writes thoughtfully and perceptively about his life, there are a dozen more erstwhile rockers whose books are cheap cash-ins or vanity projects. Unfortunately Set the Boy Free tilts toward the latter, although not without some redeeming qualities ... The book is best when he sticks to musicianly shop-talk ...This odd evasiveness is not confined to all things Morrissey. Much of Marr’s story is shadowed by an elliptical defensiveness.
...this wise, breezy, supersmart memoir will do fine as a stocking filler for the discerning fortysomething in your life ... Less uneven than Morrissey’s often delicious Autobiography, Marr’s defiantly unghostwritten book is pleasant and direct ... The description of his relationship with Morrissey is measured and protective ... the passage on how he tore off 'William, It Was Really Nothing,' 'How Soon Is Now?' and 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' is staggering. Paul McCartney and only a few others would relate to that. If anything I would have liked more navel-gazing about his extraordinary playing.
Perhaps the greatest surprise is how warmly he depicts Morrissey, and the book should preempt any further questions presented to Marr about whether the Smiths will ever reunite ... The latter half of Marr’s book is a whirlwind through these gun-for-hire years, and Marr’s recollections are primarily about the music, rather than gossipy starfucking tell-alls. In fact, Set the Boy Free is among the least salacious rock bios out there ... The writing is conversational, easygoing, and clear. Marr may not be an exacting storyteller on the page, as dates remain vague (he does have a knack for describing places, though), and the characters in his life are not drawn with any particular vividness. But it’s Marr’s name and photo that appear on the front cover, and Set the Boy Free gives us a thorough portrait of him.