The Smiths, led by famous singer Steven Morrissey, are the quintessential 80’s British indie group. Their upbeat and melancholy tunes capture the sensitive purgatory period between adolescence and adulthood, hitting all the right touchpoints regarding a frustration due to innocence lost. While “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “This Charming Man” are quotable tumblr-material, their most brilliant album, Meat Is Murder, is not. Meat Is Murder is exactly the opposite of the embodiment of the Smith’s recent revitalization, containing lyrics that aren’t necessarily accessible to the non-seasoned listener’s ear, but rather, a careful craft that is Johnny Marr’s guitar and Morrissey’s velvety voice, creating exactly what the Smiths are the best at: disturbing the listener in the most melodic, alternative, and “British” way possible. At its core, it is a thinking person's album.
The album opens with “The Headmaster Ritual”, one of the most unique Smiths tracks of all time. While Morrissey’s almost yodel-like singing can be somewhat inaccessible at first, he manages to paint a dismal yet upbeat mood regarding the powerless nature of a child as he succumbs to adult authority. Morrissey’s buttery “Belligerent ghouls/Run Manchester schools/Spineless bastards” is smooth over Marr’s quick and melodic guitar wizardry, and Joyce’s rhythmic drumming.
Perhaps the only “happy” track on the album, “Rusholme Ruffians” is a sweet, reminiscent song that juxtaposes the excitement of fairs as a child with street violence. With a steady bass-line similar to “Girlfriend in a Coma”, it is one of the more memorable tracks. With a rare Smiths utilization of the tambourine, the song is a perfect blend between memorable lyrics and a unique melody, offering a third-person illustration of a childhood event and the ignorance of the darkness behind it. Those without geographical or vernacular knowledge of England should note “Rusholme” is a town in Manchester, and “ruffian” refers to a thug.
The next two tracks bring the album back more to the traditional Smiths style, whiny yet honest, hatable yet lovable, with repetitive choruses and musical excellence. Ex-lovers rejoice in the self-pitiful nature of the lyrics “I want the one I can’t have/And it’s driving me mad”. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” is a rare ballad to the delicate emotional balance that determines what is and isn’t funny. Morrissey subtly explores the weird human peculiarity that, while happy moods often act as a catalyst for humor, depressed ones often bring one to be disgusted by certain jokes.
While The Smith’s common lyrical themes include resisting authority, Meat Is Murder is different in that draws from more every day, idiosyncratic experiences. “Nowhere Fast” is the exception to this, bringing back the more traditional style of existential dread, and a sense of despair for where humanity is headed, with memorable and self-pitiful lyrics like “The poor and/The needy/Are selfish, and greedy” and “And when I'm lying in my bed/I think about life/And I think about death/And neither one particularly appeals to me”.
The last two tracks on the album are by far, the most disturbing and gruesome. “Barbarism Begins At Home” is almost a dark continuum of the first track, as a disturbed Morrissey dwells on childhood pain. The bass-filled track elicits fearful feelings in the midst of losing innocence to violence. For almost seven minutes, Morrissey angrily yet elegantly describes the nature of abusive relationships between parent and child “A crack on the head/Is what you get for asking/And a crack on the head/ Is what you get for not asking”.
Morrissey is famous for his animal rights advocacy, and the last track, “Meat Is Murder”, exposes the revolting nature of the meat industry, in a brilliantly dark way. The song revolves around a piano-based melody, and is the slowest one on the album. With lyrics like “Kitchen aromas aren't very homely/It’s not comforting, cheery or kind/It’s sizzling blood/And the unholy stench of murder” are sure to make one rethink their dinner choices.
Meat is Murder is genius in its purest form, each song playing a distinguished part in the greater theme of protecting innocence. A Salinger-lovers’ delight, The Smiths showcase their musical variety and talent, and one to be ranked right alongside The Queen is Dead.