Meat is Murder
Released: 11 February 1985
Recorded: Winter 1984 at Amazon Studios, Liverpool and Ridge Farm, Surrey, England
Label: Rough Trade (UK), Sire (US)
Produced by: The Smiths
30 years ago today, Stephen Patrick Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke unleashed an album that was not only of it’s time, it was both ahead and behind too!
I was only 12 at the time of its release and wouldn’t truly appreciate it for about another three years, but its impact endures and this review will be as much about how the record touched my life as how much it still stands up today.
Track 1 – The Headmaster Ritual
Upbeat and jangly guitars lead us into the album’s first track, belying the sinister tones that Morrissey will soon add. “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester school”, the opening words to the album pull no punches as Morrissey sticks the boot into the education establishment. Being a product of these schools I can both understand and counter the sentiment. Being ‘Even Steven’ kept me away from the wrath of most of the bitter ageing teachers and school masters, but I saw enough examples of the more boisterous pupils receiving “the military two-step, down the nape of <their> neck” from 1960s teachers in 1980s schools.
Track 2 – Rusholme Ruffians
Keeping the rockabily beats into track two, Johnny Marr draws heavily from the Elvis track ‘(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame’ (the tracks would be melded into a medley for live shows and on the live album Rank). A tale of the dark side of the local fair, of misplaced love, but also of hope. A strangely happy song despite it’s content as Moz tells of muggings, contemplating suicide and lonliness, but “my faith in love is still devout”.
Track 3 – I want the one I can’t Have
“On the day that your mentality catches up with your biology”. I always loved that line, but I am not even sure I have interpreted it right. I take it as a longing for the days when a childish crush was all you needed rather than the emptiness of unrequited love. Probably the easiest chorus on the album for listeners to associate with and as poppy a track as you will hear them perform.
Track 4 – What She Said
If ever you want a song to confirm the ‘Smiths are Depressing’ fallacy then this is probably a good start. With typical gallows humour the song starts with “How come someone hasn’t noticed
that I’m dead and decided to bury me, God knows, I’m ready” and doesn’t really get any cheerier. But don’t take that as a detriment to the song.
Track 5 – That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More
The only single to be released from the album (reaching number 49 in July 1985) and is probably the most complete song on the album. In fact, it almost feels out of place with it’s perfect production and achingly gorgeous music that Marr said “just fell through the roof. It was one of those times when the feeling just falls down on you from the ceiling somewhere and it almost plays itself“.
NOTE: Following the radio and club success of the William is Was Really Nothing b-side ‘How Soon is Now’ was added to the album for it’s US and Canada release as track 6.
Track 6 – Nowhere Fast
“And when I’m lying in my bed I think about life and I think about death and neither one particularly appeals to me”. In Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s I am sure many of the 3 million unemployed felt exactly the same. I remember my parents struggling by in cold council house, wearing hand me down clothes and missing school trips, so find a resonance with the songs sentiment. “I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen every sensible child will know what this means. The poor and the needy are selfish and greedy on her terms”.
Track 7 – Well I Wonder
Probably the most beautiful track on the album. A study in unrequited love based on the book ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept’ by Canadian author Elizabeth Smart.
Track 8 – Barbarism Begins at Home
Musically the best track on the album, sounding like there are many more than just three instruments. “A crack on the head is what you get for not asking, and a crack on the head is what you get for asking”.
Track 9 – Meat is Murder
The title track and unfortunately it is probably the reason why I don’t listen to the album very often. Not because the track is bad, I like the song and appreciate the ferocity of the sentiment, even though the song provides no fancified word-play, just a straight to the point assault on this carnivore life. But including a 50 second introduction of the ‘heifer whines’ that Morrissey will soon sing about and a 30 second outro means that you cannot casually listen to the album all the way through and I often find myself switching it off after Barbarism.
Meat is Murder is The Smiths most overtly political album and is one where you can hear them maturing musically and lyrically. This does make the album feel a little disjointed, as if the tracks were recorded in two distinct chunks; the first half being raw and jangly, the second half having a much higher production standard and sounding far more polished. But I like that juxtaposition and despite having Morrissey’s militant Vegetarianism thrust down your throat at the end, Meat is Murder is a fine example of the what rises up from the ashes of the social and economic degradation of the Northern Spirit.
Scroll down to listen to the album on spotify or to watch a short video on the making of the album.
The Making of Meat Is Murder (Old Grey Whistle Test)