Word. 1980s Britain was bleak. The island - once known as 'The Workshop of the World' - became a major importer of goods for the first time ever. Unemployment was at a high and the people were striking in phenomenal numbers. If this wasn't depressing enough then let me remind you of the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. Yes, things were very grim indeed.
When 1985 came along Britain was already halfway through the major nationwide strikes of 1984-85 and The Smiths had released 'Meat Is Murder'. Now, you may wonder what on earth all this has to do with a pop record. Well the answer is simple: Britain wasn't an emotional nation at the time. Many people believed that depression did not exist; that depression was an excuse of the weak. It is heart moving to know that many of the unemployed were dealing with a highly stressful period of modern time alone. Then came 'Meat Is Murder'. Morrissey's lyrics peaked on this album in relation to social commentary. 'The Headmaster Ritual' addresses the issue of corporal punishment, something which the children of Britain knew all too well and is something which they had to deal with by themselves. After all what's wrong with a good old fashioned clip round the ear from the headmaster" What could they possibly complain about" We discover the songs even more gruesome sister towards the end of the album in 'Barbarism Begins at Home'. The message is simple - hitting children is bad. Yet, when you take the state of the nation into account you can understand (if not condone) the tensions in the family home. Morrissey is reaching out to the young on these tracks. He is making it strikingly clear that they are not alone. Someone understands.
The lyrical masterpiece of the album is 'Nowhere Fast'. Britain was going nowhere fast and it is on this song where we hear the bands true disgust with this with lines such as 'I'd like to drop my trousers to The Queen' and 'the poor and the needy are selfish and greedy on her terms'. It could be argued that 'The Queen' Morrissey is referring to is in fact Margaret Thatcher and not Elizabeth II. If you take this on board while listening it fits perfectly with the state of the nation at the time. For once Britain had some easily accessible music which isn't in the nature of 'I love you, baby' bubble-gum pop. The people of Britain had a piece of art that they could find solace in.
Musically this album is a mixed bag and in a good way. 'What She Said' is a fast paced number which shows off the versatility of guitarist Johnny Marr and you will find yourself head banging along to this one. 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' contains one of the most beautiful guitar sections of the entire indie genre. And of course we have the funkalicious bass line of 'Barbarism Begins at Home.'
This is an album that you must hear. This is an album that will speak to you at one point or another. And finally, who wouldn't find themself singing their heart out to the chorus of 'How Soon is Now"'