Meat is Murder (1985)


Title: Eating dead animals is a bad thing.

Cover: A photograph of Marine Corporal Michael Wynn during the Vietnam War, taken from a 1968 documentary called In the Year of the Pig. It appears four times (but only once on the CD version). The original wording on his helmet – ‘Make war not love’ – has been changed to the album’s title. It reflects the more overtly political attitude in Morrissey’s lyrics.

Best song: Barbarism Begins At Home is the band’s longest song (6.57), but could be several hundred times that length before it outstayed its welcome. Like How Soon Is Now?, it’s a bit of an oddity in the discography. At face value, the gloomy, suicidal, flower-waving, Coronation Street-quoting Morrissey shouldn’t be singing on a funk track. But Mozzer seems to be enjoying this impression of Chic – he even yelps with delight at various points. His pithy lyrics are about parental violence, but (again like How Soon Is Now?) he knows when to get out of the way. A bulk of the song is given over to the rhythm section, and the more the song goes on it’s increasingly Andy Rouke who steps into the spotlight. His bassline is out of this world. I want to have its babies.

Honourable mentions:

* The Headmaster Ritual has a sensational staccato intro beat that kick-starts the album. And then we get one of Morrissey’s priceless opening gambits: “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools…” It’s an anti-corporal-punishment lyric, and the first of many songs on this LP about violence. Johnny Marr’s George Harrison-influenced riff and Rouke’s bubbling bassline make for a dynamic groove: another theme on this album.

* Rusholme Ruffians has traces of skiffle and rockabilly. The lyrics were partly cribbed from a Victoria Wood comedy song called Fourteen Again (and contain more talk of violence). They fit the circus beat of the music really well.

* What She Said is like a ferocious series of whip-cracks. Basically just a whirling dervish of a guitar riff and a never-ending drum fill, it’s hypnotic stuff. The spell is only broken by a dramatically sudden conclusion. How else could it end?

* That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is Marr’s favourite Smiths song. It’s easy to see why. It’s big and majestic, but also dark and dangerous. The guitars are icy cool, it has a cheeky fake fade-out, and Mike Joyce’s drumming is terrific.

* How Soon Is Now? was on the US version of the album and some CD reissues in the UK. I banged on about its undimmed glory in the review of Hatful of Hollow. In terms of Meat is Murder’s running order, sadly it sticks out like a sore thumb in sixth place. It’s best to sequence around it.

* Nowhere Fast is a comedy sketch of a song, with a witty lyric about exposing yourself to Elizabeth II. (That’s nothing compared to what’ll happen to her in the next album.) The wordplay alone is worth the price of the album. But the vaudeville storytelling shouldn’t distract from how artful the music is – check out the way the band dramatises Morrissey’s line about “When a train goes by…” There’s even something approaching a guitar solo – a real Smiths rarity.

* Well I Wonder is quietly magnificent with a gorgeous, low-key acoustic arrangement. (It was actually released marginally earlier than the rest of the album, as the B-side to How Soon Is Now?)

Worst song: The title track is sanctimonious drivel. A dull enough song to begin with, it then has mooing cows and machine noises dubbed onto it. Subtle.

Review: Another stunner. It was the band’s only number-one album – not bad for a second studio LP self-produced by 25-year-old Morrissey and 21-year-old Marr.

Nine kitchen aromas out of 10.

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