Review Summary: Close to the bone…
By 1985 The Smiths had already transcended the notions of what an indie band could and should be, having scored high single chart positions, appeared on Top of the Pops multiple times, and released 2 acclaimed records – their eponymous debut plus the essential compilation, Hatful of Hallow. It doesn’t require a profound mind to comprehend that from these factors, Morrissey, Marr and the boys had great pressure and expectations to meet, but with Meat is Murder, sadly fell a little short.
Having said that, it must be known that Meat is far from a bad album – at times its brilliant LP in fact, just a tad disappointing when compared to its antecedents. The set opens to one of the most instantly propulsive and energetic tracks in the band’s catalogue, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’. Marr’s lead steals the show, flowing boundlessly in front of an ideal bass performance from Andy Rourke. The song doesn’t feature a traditional structure, and Morrissey’s indecipherable wails (appearing after his verses about existence in a cruel, corporal punishment style school, run by “belligerent ghouls” who dish out “bruises bigger than dinner plates”) serve as both the chorus and part of the rambling melody.
‘Barbarism Begins at Home’ features a similar juvenile theme, with its tale of unruly boys and girls “who must be taken in hand”. Musically it’s almost as brilliant again – a near-funk rhythm section and jumpy guitars mark a piece best appreciated for its instrumental quality, as Morrissey repeats the same few lines throughout the 7 minute runtime. The hook “a crack on the head is what you for asking /and a crack on the head is what you get for not asking” is worth a mention however, as it shows off Morrissey’s sarcastic wit more than many Smiths detractors would care to mention, or even notice at all.
The other big hitter here is ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’, and while it doesn’t break any new ground for the group it does soundly deliver more of their crucial miserable side, with Morrissey’s drone of a joke that is no longer easy to accept, due to it being “too close to home” and “too near the bone”. ‘Nowhere Fast’ is a jaunty little ditty that’s also not too lyrically jolly, but perhaps a little tongue in cheek (something which must always be taken into account with the genius of Mozza), with the line “and if the day came when I felt a natural emotion / I’d get such a shock I’d probably jump in the ocean”.
Unfortunately the remaining tracks just don’t hit home the same as the aforementioned, for individual reasons. ‘Rusholme Ruffians’ is a stab at rockabilly that falls a little flat, while ‘What She Said’s out-of-place hard rock fails to grab that much attention given its racket. ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’ and ‘Well I Wonder’ are pleasant enough but not as hooky or memorable as they needed to be, while the title track flirts dangerously close to embarrassing more than any other song in their frighteningly near-perfect catalogue. Its cow sound effects are awkward; its melody not that strong and its lyrics annoyingly preachy, to say the least.
All in all, Meat is Murder is an inconsistent disc that can’t help but feel a touch disappointing after the band’s stellar previous efforts, Ultimately though, it’s not a poor record at all, as over half its tracks or more or less top notch Smith tunes, and 4 great tunes from The Smith are more superior than most band’s 4 strongest tracks. Bare that in mind and Meat is Murder deserves to find a place in all Smiths collections, even if it is served a little more medium-rare than well-done.