Taking exactly a year to release the follow-up studio album to their much heralded, though most dated, self-titled debut LP, Manc indie heroes The Smiths were back on the scene with the in-yer-face titled ‘Meat Is Murder’. (In truth though they had never been away–, putting out several wonderful singles as well as the much-loved BBC radio sessions compilation ‘Hatful of Hallow’ at the tail-end of ’84).
‘MiM’ took the group defiantly and confidently up a gear, playing a heavier and confrontational brand of northern UK homespun and unique indie-rock, as well as lyrically brutal home truths. It’s still every bit as funny and sad, upbeat and bleak, sometimes all of these things during the same track. (I’m not sure the militant, equally genius as frustrating Mozzer would agree, but even non vegans could appreciate this record).
‘MiM’ is like The Smiths but at the same time different. They’d matured, moved on, and with this demonstrated their Beatles-like greatness. Morrissey also broadened his shoulders here to become more of the sharp-witted and much-quotable lyricist than he was already. Less hiding behind the quiff while grasping a bunch of daffodils, more equally snarling and smirking in his new TV alt. celeb world.
Opener cut, the anti school punishment tune Headmaster Ritual err kicks in with the following powerful and clever, no-messin’-around line, “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools/spineless swines/cemented minds”, while the other half of the crucial double act Johnny Marr plays along in typically tightly-wound and shimmering fashion.
(Though Morrissey was to the untrained eye an unmanly type of, let’s say, rock star, he was perhaps more outspoken and forthright than any other frontman around at the time, or even since; coming from similar angles, channelling not dissimilar positive frustrations, as the decade later riot grrrl movement. Kicking against the pricks, indeed).
Rusholme Ruffians brings along some rockabilly meets pure funk bass from that underrated Andy Rourke fella, while Morrissey, somewhat favourably, sings about the traditional Manchester fair’s penchant for violence. Elsewhere What She Said’s chord engine room is subtly heavy metal, and one can almost imagine it used as a motorbiker’s anthem. Single release, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore– the one with the slow jam with the backwards guitar feedback swirl that sounds like it could’ve helped influenced My Bloody Valentine– is typical of much of the record’s downer tone (although even with the lyric “I just might die with a smile on my face after all”, one still senses Morrissey always had room for humour even in his darkest hour).
The beautiful grey suburban folk sounds of Well I Wonder still remains just about one of the genuinely saddest songs of unrequited love ever penned, and not helped by the fact Morrissey groans in pain towards the track’s runout. Barbarism Begins at Home was a live favourite and one can see why. It’s lyrically not one of Morrissey’s deeper numbers (although this seems the point, as it is just about the album’s most loose and upbeat tracks). The track is mostly all about Rourke’s cool and understated racing funk, as well as Marr’s crisp, hip shakin’ jangle-rock confidence. He’d become a really good guitarist by this stage, you know.
But it’s the final track where the joke really isn’t funny anymore. Slanted, sideways guitar– as if foreseeing the genre Americana– plays along as Morrissey half loses his voice with a mixture of utmost feeling, confusion and rage, all the while chilling sounds from an abattoir are present throughout. Powerful, not to everyone’s taste, and still a hard one to listen to let alone enjoy.
‘Meat Is Murder’ is an LP that still stands up just as impressively and fresh some thirty years on. The general opinion is that the record was surpassed a year later with the more mood shifting, humour forming– and altogether poppier– ‘The Queen id Dead’. But still, the record remains something of a turning point for the group, and one that a growing number are favouring over all the rest.