The Smiths release their second masterpiece, Meat Is Murder

The Smiths - Live (youtube.com)

The Smiths – Live

We feel that popular music should be used to make serious statements.

Morrissey, 1985

Introduction

Only three months after their first masterpiece Hatful Of Hollow, The Smiths release masterpiece number two. The story behind Meat Is Murder.

Recording

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder - Recording studio logos (apoplife.nl)

The story of Meat Is Murder even starts before the release of Hatful Of Hollow, in October 1984, when the band take up residence at the Amazon Studios in Liverpool. Because disappointment about their debut album was still fresh, the band decided to take on production duties themselves and (once again) invite Stephen Street as co-producer and engineer. The band drove to and from Manchester every day by car. The atmosphere was great and the band was excited to take their next step. Musically, most of the songs were ready and the band knew them well, due to extensive playing in rehearsal.

While the music was being recorded, Morrissey was present in the studio, singing his lyrics whenever the music was put to tape. The band members heard the lyrics for the first time when Morrissey recorded his vocals. The band worked hard, focused and felt very much at ease. The songs were all done rather quickly and everyone was content with the results.

After three weeks the band moved to Ridge Farm where they finished the new album, recording the title song there. Early January 1985 the second album was finished and the release date was set at February 11th, 1985.

In the meantime Rough Trade had noticed that How Soon Is Now? had garnered quite some interest as a single B-side and subsequently released it as an A -side single, a mere 2 weeks prior to the release of the new album. A song of the new album was used as a B-side, but the band was disappointed that the new single wasn’t culled from the new album. But Rough Trade was a real small indie-label that wasn’t prepared for the amount of success The Smiths had and didn’t comprehend marketing and product placement. On the other hand, The Smiths were without management. By Morrissey’s explicit wish, which meant that Johnny Marr was (ie: had to be) in charge of day to day operations.

The good news was that the new album was done, but the relationship with Rough Trade began to deteriorate and tension was starting to build on the tandem Morrissey / Johnny Marr.

Meat Is Murder

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder (facebook.com)

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder

On February 11th, 1985, the second album by The Smiths, Meat Is Murder, was released. The album was a giant leap forward when compared to their debut from just a year earlier. The sound, the compositions, the lyrical content, the band had progressed considerably in the last 12 months, during which the band proved they were able to write an enormous amount of material, that was all equally brilliant.

The album was very successful, in the UK it was their first and only number 1 album. Due to Rough Trade‘s clumsiness and The Smiths’ ridiculously prolific output, essentially just one single was culled from the album, which didn’t sell that well. The first single to be released following the album’s release was Shakespeare’s Sister, a song that wasn’t part of Meat Is Murder‘s tracklist.

Song by song

Meat Is Murder was more political as an album than all their preceding releases. Huge subjects like (capital) punishment at schools, child abuse, bullying and vegetarianism were all addressed, by and large delivered in a sarcastic humorous way, like only Morrissey can. Making ugly things bearable just by choice of words.

The Headmaster Ritual

The album’s opening song. A fantastic rock song with glorious guitar work by Marr, but the other two band members are in fine form as well. After the long intro those memorable lines follow, that really set the mood for everything else:

Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools
Spineless swines, Cemented minds

Morrissey uses his personal trauma regarding his time at school. The refrain touches the soul, I wanna go home / I don’t wanna stay. You feel the desperation, loneliness and sorrow of a boy who is (or feels) abused. Beautiful, beautiful song!

N.B.:
The headmaster at St. Mary’s Secondary Modern denied Morrissey ever being beaten, while interviewed at a local radio station. By the time he died, Morrissey shared his sentiment on stage: he was glad he was dead.

Rusholme Ruffians

The Smiths go rockabilly. Cheerful, musically speaking. The lyrics are about being stabbed at a fair, (not) finding love and, in spite of it all:

I might walk home alone…
…But my faith in love is still devout

I Want The One I Can’t Have

Unrequited love. Conceivable. Once again a catchy song by The Smiths.

What She Said

Generally speaking, I’m not a particular fan of the faster songs by The Smiths, but this one grabs me. Lyrically it’s about a woman who is honest about her life, which isn’t that great, and subsequently states she essentially wants to die as quickly as possible. It seems the narrator doesn’t really care whether she lives or dies. But, then again, isn’t it just a cry for attention?

What she said was sad
But then, all the rejection she’s had
To pretend to be happy
Could only be idiocy

I smoke ‘cos I’m hoping for an early death
And I need to cling to something!

Depressing? Yes, but when articulated by Morrissey it’s strangely comforting.

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder - Banner ad (facebook.com)

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder – Banner

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

Exceptionally beautiful song, both musically as lyrically. I always thought it was about someone who kept his distance from bullying and especially the one being bullied, finding out that it’s actually quite nice if there is someone around who cares.

I recently came across a theory that makes sense as well: the narrator used to joke about outsiders and in turn is an outsider himself now.

It was dark as I drove the point home
And on cold leather seats
Well, it suddenly struck me
I just might die with a smile
On my face after all

The use of the slide guitar in particular turn this song into a genuine tear jerker, especially when combined with the outro lyrics: “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives and now it’s happening in mine”. Goosebumps.

Nowhere Fast

Morrissey would like to drop his trousers to the queen. Not meant as a childish act, but as an accusal against royalty and the ‘buy-buy-buy’ society. Great song, which turns into a song about the emptiness of being.

And when I’m lying in my bed
I think about life and I think about death
And neither one particularly appeals to me
And if the day came when I felt a
Natural emotion
I’d get such a shock I’d probably lie
In the middle of the street and die
I’d lie down and die …

Well I Wonder

Beautiful song, with minimal yet intense lyrics. “Please keep me in mind”.

Barbarism Begins At Home

Yet another phenomenal song. Musically funky and tight, giving ample room to the band’s rhythm section, lyrically heavy: violence within the family. The feeling of being of unsafe and the fear of unpredictability is painfully and intensely envisioned:

A crack on the head
Is what you get for not asking
And a crack on the head
Is what you get for asking

Meat Is Murder

Morrissey - 1985 (feelnumb.com)

Morrissey – 1985

The title song and the most controversial one on the album. Particularly in the UK, the song had a huge impact and played a partial part in more acceptance of vegetarianism. It even inspired many to become a vegetarian themselves.

Morrissey was 11 or 12 when he turned vegetarian. Why should another living creature die for our food? Even though I sympathize with the cause itself, the song is the lesser of the bunch. In an interview around the time of the album’s release, Morrissey stated that “in virtually every song there is some serious message, a serious implication, but it’s all done with great humour…I don’t want to make it sound trivial, but we’re not doom-laden by any means”. It’s true for every song, but this one. It lacks the irony that make Morrissey’s lyrics so brilliant. Should you want to make up your own mind, click on the line below.

It’s obvious that the subject is really important to Morrissey. He forbade his fellow band members to be photographed with meat, which was easy, because social pressure ensured the rest of the band to be vegetarians as well. Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke love to eat meat and never stopped. Johnny Marr turned into a true vegetarian and remains so to this day, something he is grateful for towards Morrissey.

Hoesfoto

Documentary - In The Year Of the Pig (amazon.com)

Documentary – In The Year Of the Pig

The photograph on the front cover stems from the movie In The Year Of The Pig by director Emile de Antonio. The documentary was released in 1968 and documented the American role in the Vietnam war, which was in full blast at the time. It was highly controversial in the US, because of the critical stance towards the war, even resulting in bomb threats at theaters that showed the movie. In 1969 the movie won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

The young soldier used in ad campaigns was Marine Corporal Michael Wynn, at the time 20 years old. He survived the war and moved to Australia. When questioned about what he thought of the Meat Is Murder cover he said: “I first learned of it when my sister happened to see the album while she was shopping. I wasn’t real happy about The Smiths changing the wording”.

Review

The second album is, as was predecessor Hatful Of Hollow, a masterpiece. The combination of Marr’s great riffs and inventive guitar playing and Morrissey’s lyrics and singing work out beautifully on Meat Is Murder. It’s the one album by The Smiths I have listened to most. I like the overall mood and the sound (even though the bass should have been more prominent in the mix). It’s their most diverse album and contains no less than three songs that outshine their ridiculously brilliant body of work.

Rating:

With the release of Meat Is Murder The Smiths made an album that comes highly recommended to anyone who loves rock, indie and especially well crafted songs that have real content, humor, feeling and soul.

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder - The singles (discogs.com)

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder – The singles

Singles

Around Meat Is Murder‘s release 5 singles were released, of which only one (That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore) is regarded a ‘real’ Meat Is Murder single:

  • Shakespeare’s Sister (not on Meat Is Murder
    (released on March 18th, 1985)
  • Barbarism Begins At Home
    (released in April 1985, in Germany and Italy only)
  • The Headmaster Ritual
    (released in April 1985, in The Netherlands only)
  • That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
    (released on July 1st, 1985)

On January 28th, 1985, two weeks prior to Meat Is Murder‘s release, How Soon Is Now? (which had been released on Hatful Of Hollow) was released as a single, using Well I Wonder as its B-side.

Songs

The Smiths - Meat Is Murder - American ad (pinterest.com)

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder – American ad

All music composed by Johnny Marr, lyrics by Morrissey.

  • The Headmaster Ritual
  • Rusholme Ruffians
  • I Want The One I Can’t Have
  • What She Said
  • That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
  • Nowhere Fast
  • Well I Wonder
  • Barbarism Begins At Home
  • Meat Is Murder

In the US How Soon Is Now? was added to the album as the sixth song, against the band’s wishes.

Musicians

  • Morrissey – vocals
  • Johnny Marr – (slide) guitar, piano, effects
  • Andy Rourke – bas
  • Mike Joyce – drums, tamborine
The Smiths - Live - USA 1985 (washingtoncitypaper.com)

The Smiths – Live – VS 1985

After Meat Is Murder

After the release of the album, the band went into rehearsal for the upcoming Meat Is Murder Tour, which was organized in the UK in March and April. The band’s popularity was growing, so the shows were staged at bigger venues, like halls and theaters.

When the UK tour was over, the band went of their first ever American tour. It was a huge success.

But the ‘no management’ situation became more problematic. The band was asked to do promos, interviews, etc. Marr tried to organize everything and keep it all afloat, even if it meant that his health suffered. Morrissey pulled back and canceled interviews. Even though the parties at work didn’t mean harm, it established a precedent for the way the band was managed, which wouldn’t be changed as well, until it was too late.

In interviews Morrissey became more radical than before, leading to a lot of controversy (consequentially keeping the name The Smiths in the media attention). Thatcher, the royal family, Band Aid. He often used his time to talk about vegetarianism.

In August of 1985 work started on the follow up to Meat Is Murder. More on that in another article.

In closing

What do you think of Meat Is Murder? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Smiths release their second masterpiece, Meat Is Murder. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

2 comments

  1. Great album, and fantastic article.
    I love your writing style, I aspire to be as articulate as you. Many thanks, and keep up the great work.

    1. Wow, just wow. Thank you so much Hamish. It really means a lot to me, especially coming from you. I love your blog and book!

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!