15. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)
To use the umpteenth football analogy of this article, if you ask a casual football fan who the greatest player of all time was, he/she would say Pele. While he was surely a truly superb player, it is more the general consensus than actual analysis that has led to that opinion. And much in the same way, if you ask a casual music fan which is the best Smiths album, they would say The Queen Is Dead. The genuinely knowledgeable football fan, however, would claim that Diego Maradona is the best player of all time, just as the more devout music fan would plump for Meat Is Murder.
Meat Is Murder stands apart from the rest of The Smiths’ cannon, in that for all the introspection and doom of the debut, the kitchen sink gloominess of The Queen Is Dead and the Walker Brothers-esque gothicness of Strangeways Here We Come, this album is by far their noisiest, fastest and heaviest and there’s a reason for that. Morrissey may be the look-at-poor-me focal point of everything The Smiths ever did, but make no mistake, this is Johnny Marr’s album.
Johnny Marr was influenced by the likes of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn as well as the classic songwriters such as Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Leiber and Stoller and Burt Bacharach, and it came through on the debut and on Hatful Of Hollow, were the tunes are to the fore and there is such a wonderful array of melody. On Meat Is Murder, however, he is indulging his obsessions with Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Tom Verlaine, and The Smiths would never sound like this on any other record they made. What She Said, for a start, is one of the fastest guitar riffs of all time. So fast, in fact, that the intro sounds like the rest of the band are struggling to keep up. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is one of the bleakest songs ever written and that is down to the harrowing spiral of the music rather than a no more than averagely miserable lyric from the Moz.
That is not to say Morrissey doesn’t contribute, far from it. The first three songs are superb examples of his acerbic lyrical humour, a style which no-one has ever replicated, and on How Soon Is Now? which wasn’t included on the original vinyl pressing, he successfully converts his inability to pull in discos into a Wildean lament. Fair enough, he makes a show of himself with the sanctimonious preaching of the title track, but you don’t have to listen to that. Instead, listen to his magnificent vocal on Well I Wonder, and enjoy the best work of the best electric guitarist that England has ever produced, only Richard Thompson comes close. And watch the following video to see the coolest footage of any musician ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9VVVqN_PJ4
In my opinion, The Smiths are the greatest band that ever wrote, recorded and played. But, much like The Kinks, they never produced that genuine eleven out of ten masterpiece. That is because they had too much material too soon; had they taken more time, they could have stuck London and Rubber Ring on this album and booted the quality through the roof, but youthful naivety and the enormous splurge of ideas they had meant it wasn’t to be so calculated. It doesn’t matter though, because this is still the strongest set in the Morrissey/Marr cannon.
A parting thought; When Johnny Marr wrote this album, he was twenty-one years old. When Oasis released Supersonic, Noel Gallagher was twenty-six. What exactly kept him?
Best Tracks: I Want The One I Can’t Have, What She Said, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
Best Moment: 3:52 into That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore; just when you thought the horror was over…
Like this? Try: This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello (1978)
Allen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014