Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 15.

15. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)


meat is murder

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.

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)

profile b and wAllen 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.


Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 21


The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

Ah, record shops. How we loved record shops and record shopping. Those grey, overcast days in February and March where we were absolutely adamant that we would walk home with a bag containing a CD or two dangling from our wrists as our hands were thrust in the pockets of our overcoats, even if there was nothing there we particularly wanted. But how curious we were about this band as pre-millennial seventeen year-olds, how we’d read the stars of the moment say how wonderful they were, how we would come to revere them, to this day, as The Greatest Band Of All Time. We would walk three miles home from our mundane part-time jobs, sharing an earphone each from a Walkman, listening to a tape on which a strange man sung of the soil falling over his head and knowing how Joan Of Arc felt and never ever wanting to go home. How we felt like we understood everything life could possibly be at that tender age. How we fell in love with The Smiths.

A personal approach, yes, but there really is no other way you can evaluate this band. In many ways, ranking Smiths albums is pointless because you consume the entire package rather than their works. No other band in the history of music has inspired such devotion, worship and adoration.

You could live in a Smiths song, you could feel the drizzle in your hair and kick through the puddles and you could do as ten thousand grubby indie kids have done and barricade yourself in your room and listen to Morrissey’s glorious vocal on I Know Its Over as the one you’re meant to be with dumps you for the twentieth time. I remember when I had started gigging with Sal Paradise and Xavier and I were sat in Sharkey’s Bar one evening. A barmaid came over to us with some promo postcards on which you were encouraged to scrawl whichever vodka-drenched nugget of wisdom that you saw fit and then give them it back so they could post it. I addressed it to our boss and wrote “I want to leave, you will not miss me, I want to go down in musical history.” Didn’t happen.

The Queen Is Dead, the track, is ferocious. The most frantically garbled vocal since Subterranean Homesick Blues and guitar-work that left Johnny Marr shaking upon leaving the booth. Cemetery Gates has some of the finest word-play of any lyric ever and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is home to a musical composition entirely unique, with no comparison in rock. And then we have There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, in this writer’s opinion, the very apex of music itself; The Greatest Song Ever Written. It is effectively a love song to a friend (Morrissey to Marr, allegedly, actually, not allegedly) and, like a great episode of Twin Peaks, there are so many levels and hidden secrets to it that you will never get tired of hearing it. When I saw Morrissey solo at the MEN in 2004, he ran offstage before he sang the final refrain, as if he couldn’t handle the immense emotion of it all, and if you youtube Noel Gallagher covering it at his Teenage Cancer Trust benefit, he strums his guitar so delicately he looks like he’s delivering a baby, like he’s completely terrified of not doing the song justice.

Many people who know my taste in music may have thought I would have put this album much higher up in this list, and despite the high points being as good as popular music has ever got, the album as a whole has some noticeable lows; Never Had No-one Ever doesn’t really go anywhere and Vicar In A Tutu is lightweight, while Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is rumoured to be the song that started the demise of the greatest songwriting partnership ever seen, and yes I am including Lennon and McCartney in that. The peaks far outweigh the troughs, and although it deserves its constant place in Best Albums Ever lists, The Smiths made a better album than The Queen Is Dead.

Best Tracks: The Queen Is Dead, I Know Its Over, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Best Moment:
The vocal outro to I Know Its Over. To idiots, the carping of a self pitying drama queen. To everyone else, the emotional peak of one of the most moving songs ever written.

Like this? Try: The First Tindersticks Album by Tindersticks, 1993

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. 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 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.