30th January 2013

From the vault: The Smiths – Meat is Murder (1985)

A look back at the album that put more people off their meat than any horse burger ever could

Morrissey never has been one to avoid controversy. In an industry where our modern icons are plastered over the news whenever they upload an Instagram’d picture to their legions of Twitter followers, it’s somewhat refreshing to have an artist who actually has something to say. Way before his recent outbursts about the tragic Norway massacre, the Argentinians’ right to the Falklands, and his description of the Chinese as a “sub-species” due to their cat and dog trade, we have Meat is Murder.

It’s easy to forget that beneath the album’s political tirade lies the music of a band approaching their lofty peak. Any concern over The Smiths succumbing to the dreaded second album syndrome are shattered as opening track ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ kicks in with what is undoubtedly Marr’s greatest guitar riff of all time. Paired with Morrissey’s lyrics about corporal punishment and returning from school with “bruises bigger than dinner plates”, it sets a great tone for the album.

Topics range from the monarchy in ‘Nowhere Fast’, “I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen”, and child abuse in ‘Barbarism Begins at Home’, “A crack on the head/Is what you get for not asking”; the latter of which bows out with a funky 3-minute rhythm section jam, thrusting Rourke (bass) and Joyce (drums) to a rare position centre stage.

And then there’s the title track. Now I love a good bacon butty, but even I can’t listen to that song without feeling a tinge of guilt about my carnivorous ways. It’s widely believed the song has turned more people vegetarian than just about any other movement, and upon listening to its eerie melody, you can see why. The band pull no punches; it begins with the haunting sounds of an abattoir and the moos of distressed cows being led to slaughter. It doesn’t get any prettier when Morrissey’s chilling words are thrown into the mix, “It’s not natural, normal or kind/The flesh you so fancifully fry/The meat in your mouth/As you savour the flavour of murder”. Recent live performances of the track by Morrissey as a solo artist have been accompanied by horrific footage of the barbaric treatment of animals in slaughterhouses. It’s nothing if not effective.

Even though I can never enjoy a bacon double cheeseburger the same again, it was worth it, listening to the brilliance that is Meat is Murder.

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