Retro Review: The Smiths – ‘Meat Is Murder’
Meat is Murder is available @ iTunes.
by Walter Price
Depending on who you’re chatting musical history with most likely you’ll end up debating Meat Is Murder (’85) vs. The Queen Is Dead (’86). The answer is an easy one. Both albums are the best album released by The Smiths. “But that isn’t mathematically possible”, you mutter…
The Queen Is Dead is and will always be hailed as a masterpiece of British pop music. That isn’t in question. What I am saying is that if it weren’t for the testing/proving grounds of Meat Is Murder The Smiths and the alt-rock movement would not have been as solid or as memorable as it and they are.
The deliciously varied directions Morrissey wanted to take us, teach us, lamenting his wondering and concerned mind backed by Johnny Marr’s lust for his craft laid out, tricked out and wandering his vast library of influences. It’s a cool album. With two soon to be legends feeling themselves out, testing the borders in a sometimes skewed and seemingly aimless way but with a win as the final result.
And if you lived in The States you probably didn’t know that the best track, the track that is likely the most important song in alt-rock history How Soon Is Now didn’t even belong on the album! Chewy intrigue round every groove, beauty.
I have read a mountain of reviews for this must-have seminal album and I found two with different views that exemplify how the debate started and will continue.
Rolling Stone Magazine
By Tim Holmes
Lead singer and wordsmith Stephen Morrissey (who goes by his surname professionally) is a man on a mission, a forlorn and brooding crusader with an arsenal of personal axes to grind. Drawing on British literary and cinematic tradition (he cites influences ranging from Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), Morrissey speaks out for protection of the innocent, railing against human cruelty in all its guises. Three of the songs on Meat Is Murder deal with saving our children — from the educational system (“The Headmaster Ritual”), from brutalizing homes (“Barbarism Begins at Home”), from one another (“Rusholme Ruffians”). The title track, “Meat Is Murder,” with its simulated bovine cries and buzz-saw guitars, takes vegetarianism to new heights of hysterical caniphobia.
A man of deadly serious sensitivity, Morrissey recognizes emotional as well as physical brutality, assailing the cynicism that laughs at loneliness (“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”). Despite feeling trapped in an unfeeling world, Morrissey can still declare, “My faith in love is still devout,” with a sincerity so deadpan as to be completely believable.
Though he waves the standard for romance and sexual liberation, Morrissey has a curiously puritanical concept of love. He’s conscious of thwarted passion and inappropriate response, yet remains oddly distant from his own self-absorption. The simple pleasures of others make him uncomfortable as if these activities were the cause of his own grand existential suffering. Morrissey’s uptight romanticism wears the black mantle of a new Inquisition.
In contrast to Morrissey’s censorious lyrical attitudes is the expansive musical vision of guitarist and tunesmith Johnny Marr. When these two are brought into alignment, the results transcend and transform Morrissey’s concerns. The brightest example is the shimmering twelve-inch “How Soon Is Now?” (included as a bonus on U.S. copies of Meat Is Murder). Marr’s version of the Bo Diddley beat and his somber, reptilian guitars propel Morrissey’s heartfelt plea — “I am human, and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does” — into the realm of universal compassion and post-cool poetry. At this point, his needs seem real, his concerns nonjudgmental, and his otherwise pious persona truly sympathetic.
It makes a certain kind of sense to impose teen-macho aggression on your audience–for better or worse, macho teens are expected to make a thing of their unwanted hostility. These guys impose their post-adolescent sensitivity, thus inspiring the sneaking suspicion that they’re less sensitive than they come on–passive-aggressive, the pathology is called, and it begs for a belt in the chops. Only the guitar hook of “How Soon Is Now,” stuck on by their meddling U.S. label, spoils the otherwise pristine fecklessness of this prize-winning U.K. LP. Remember what the Residents say: “Hitler was a vegetarian.” C+
I will add that after reading Christgau’s other reviews of Smiths albums, he may not be the biggest fan…And so the world turns.
support great artists, buy music