The Smiths seemed to save their most refined pop for their singles, making their albums a platform for grand statements less likely to hit the charts. And in those “Frankie Say Relax” times, could there have been a more bold attitude than Meat Is Murder?
“The Headmaster Ritual” is a strong opener, an excellent mix of groove and subtle changes, upon which Morrissey’s tale of schoolboy woe sits within a five-note range. “Rusholme Ruffians” is a rockabilly shuffle, a carefree decoration for a song filled with even more violence and fear. It’s not easy to follow the free-verse of the vocal, but we can assume that sound effect at the end is some kind of carnival game shutting down. There’s a similar retro-twang to “I Want The One I Can’t Have”; the band are credited with the album’s production, so the instruments are mixed better, but Morrissey still sounds like he’s singing in a closet, and we don’t mean that metaphorically. Just as muddy is “What She Said” with some near-metal bursts from Johnny Marr. The high-point is “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, which lives up to its archetypically lengthy title, and sports a fake fade.
In the US, “How Soon Is Now?” was added to the top of side two—a wise choice, since it not only made this stellar track more available, but improved the album as a whole. “Nowhere Fast” is the best rockabilly raveup here, with excellent, surprising rhymes to boot. While seductively sad, “Well I Wonder” is one of their least successful mopes, and the atmospheric rain over the end makes it even more maudlin than it needs to be. (Especially since the effect always ends up sounding like a toilet running or somebody filling same.) “Barbarism Begins At Home” isn’t much more than a groove that goes on for seven minutes; excellent as it is, and particularly that bass, it would have been better served as a B-side or an extended dance mix. And since the first album ended with a somber elegy for innocent victims, the title track uses buzzsaw sound effects and plaintive moos and bleats to illustrate Morrissey’s vegetarian stance.
Violence certainly pervades Meat Is Murder, whether perpetuated on students or farm animals, by teachers and parents, or between society classes. The Smiths certainly weren’t shy about confrontation, but they’d yet to learn how to really seduce their audience.
The Smiths Meat Is Murder (1985)—3