"Well, you know what stopped me from eating it were the lyrics for 'Meat Is Murder'. The actual lyrics. Not so much him saying, 'What're you eating there?'" - Mike Joyce
The second studio LP by The Smiths (but third album release overall, if you count the compilation Hatful of Hollow), Meat Is Murder was released in February, 1985. Hard-hitting in its title, subject matter, and cover artwork - a picture of a soldier from the film In The Year Of The Pig, his helmet reading 'Meat Is Murder' - the album successfully blends Morrissey's articulate, yet vitriolic lyrics with Johnny Marr's virtuoso guitars. Morrissey, being famously vegetarian, went so far as to prohibit the three other members of the band from being seen eating meat, and the album can be considered to be a solid, angry attack on the subjects he hates. From schoolmasters to slaughterhouses, Meat Is Murder strikes out at them all - and managed to make number one in the process.
Despite reaching number one in the album charts, Meat Is Murder did poorly single-wise. Only one track was released as a single, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, just creeping into the Top 50 - however, on the USA release, the single How Soon Is Now? was included - a track which had fared far better. In the USA, the album itself reached number 110.
- The Headmaster Ritual - A jarring guitar riff hits us as the album begins, a simple Marr guitar line that forms the backbone of the opening track. Fast tempo, a constant melody, and solid backing work by Mssrs. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce combine with Morrissey's hatred of his school teachers, opening the LP in fine style. Shockingly, Morrissey's anger even prompts him to utter the word 'bastard'. Released to American radio stations as a promotional record, but was briefly released as a single in the UK on CD by Rough Trade (although it was swiftly removed from sale) in 1988. "Sir leads the troops / Jealous of youth / Same old suit since 1962 / He does the military two-step down the nape of my neck"
- Rusholme Ruffians - Switching swiftly into a rockabilly number, Morrissey's story of a trip to a fair descends into a tale of tragedies. Humourous and not at all the depressive style of songs the Smiths were infamous for, the song is gentle but with a wicked sense of humour. Not released as a single. "The last night of the fair / By the big wheel generator / A boy is stabbed / And his money is grabbed / And the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine"
- I Want The One I Can't Have - A simple song about unrequited love, or something more? Starting with the sound of helicopter rotors, the song follows a mystery protagonist complaining at how his would-be lover has turned him down. The song is filled with interesting turns of verse and possible references - the line "A tough kid who sometimes swallows nails" is adapted from a description of James Dean ("A tough kid who sometimes sleeps on nails" - Howard Sachler), Morrissey's verion taken by some to mean oral sex, whilst "On the day that your mentality / Catches up with your biology" suggests the object of the singer's desire is a closet homosexual. Who knows? Not released as a single. "And if you ever need self-validation / Just meet me in the alley by the railway station"
- What She Said - A strong bass line leads this song on, full of bombastic drumming and a constant, almost frenzied guitar. Morrissey snarls his way through the lyrics, full of bite and bile, the song itself a strong rock number. Not released as a single. "I smoke 'cos I'm hoping for an early death / And I need to cling to something!"
- That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore - Contrasting excellently with the fury of the previous track, this song is a delicate ballad, Morrissey's lament for life and other people. The 'joke' is the constant talk of him being so morbid, he would like to die - but, as he says, "I wish I could laugh". The song builds itself on repetition, more so than other Smiths songs, Morrissey backing his own lyrics as he builds up to a triumphant end - perhaps how Moz would have liked to go. Or not. Released as a single in July 1985, reaching number 49. "Well, it suddenly struck me / I just might die with a smile on my face after all"
- How Soon Is Now? (only on USA release) - One of the band's most famous songs, and with good reason - not only is it absolutely fantastic, but has been covered many, many times. Apple have used it for an advert, it's the theme music to the TV series Charmed - and a damn fine single it made, too. Heavy, incessant guitars perpetuate this number, Morrissey managing to sound both articulate and almost uninterested as he refutes an unknown person's accusations. Released as a single in February 1985, reaching number 24. "You shut your mouth, how can you say / I go about things the wrong way? / I am human and I need to be loved / Just like everybody else does"
- Nowhere Fast - An upbeat and humourous song, until the very end, Mike Joyce's rhythm keeping the song going nicely with Marr's guitars highlighting the melody. Caught between the sluggy power of the previous track, and downbeat feeling of the next, it helps pick your spirits up with a lighthearted little number. Not released as a single. "I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen / Every sensible child will know just what this means"
- Well I Wonder - Morrissey's vocal talents are expanded upon here, effortlessly taking the falsetto vocal parts as this song of quiet, focused desperation flows. As opposed to the depression hinted upon in other songs, here Moz sounds as if he can no longer hide himself. Not released as a single. "Gasping - dying - but somehow still alive / This is the fierce last stand of all I am"
- Barbarism Begins At Home - Another album track not to be released as a single until its 1988 CD release, this disco-influenced track launches an attack on children's homes, funk-styled bass mixing with animal noises and excellent guitarwork. Morrissey's vocals mix between yodels, repeated choruses, and yips and barks on one of the album's highlights. One of the Smiths' greatest live tracks. Released as a single on CD in 1988. "A crack on the head is what you get for not asking"
- Meat Is Murder - Beginning with quiet, yet groaning industrial, tearing noises, mixed with animal cries, this militant vegetarian anthem closes the album with an anguished, passionate cry. The piano lines haunt this track, mixed with a gentle yet distressing guitar, Morrissey attempting to convince us that to eat meat is to kill, gladly comparing an animal life to a human's. Not released as a single. "This beautiful creature must die / A death for no reason / And death for no reason is murder"
Both lyrically and musically, The Smiths' second LP is an excellent album. It somehow tackles quite difficult subjects with relative ease, Morrissey able to articulate his thoughts into quite poetic strings whilst Marr's guitars delicately or dangerously back them. Whilst most praise is heaped on Morrissey and Marr, the bass and drums are equally strong, and the band would still be nothing without Rourke and Joyce's contributions.
When compared to the group's other most famous release, The Queen Is Dead, it's difficult to pick one over the other. While Meat Is Murder's introduction is one of the most powerful and a great start to the record, the lyrical turns of the "The Queen Is Dead/Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty" medley are equally as compelling. Meat Is Murder can be a shade too imposing at times, full of moral verse, but is a highly rewarding album to listen to - an early The Holy Bible, albiet one that is far easier to dip into than Richey's masterwork.