It’s rather astounding when you actually realize that The Smiths were only together for five years considering that in their incredibly short lifespan, they managed to acquire an obsessive, cult-like fan base through their jangly guitar-ridden, pessimistic 80’s pop alt-rock. The band crafted one full length record after another, four years in a row: The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, and Strangeways, Here We Come–an ambitious goal most artists today would likely hav difficulty achieving. But then again, this is coming from a band who penned lyrics such as “I want to leave, you will not miss me/I want to go down in musical history.” Upon release, their 1984 self-titled debut was glorified by the likes of both the Rolling Stone and the reputable John Peel–the BBC disc jockey known for his extensive catalog of live studio recordings (such as this one), better known as “The Peel Sessions”.
The sound of 1985’s Meat is Murder (the follow-up to The Smiths) leans in the same direction as their debut release–dark, sad, and poppy–but it’s easy to see that the band strived for more musical experimentation, and went in slightly more political direction (the cover and title/title-track referencing Morrissey’s militant devotion to vegetarianism). Throughout Meat is Murder, Morrissey’s sardonic, lyrical melodrama charms listeners over the band’s backdrop of hypnotic, 60’s rock inspired riffs and lush layers of acoustic guitar, chunky bass lines, and the constant snaps of strident drums. The opener, “The Headmaster Ritual”, kicks off with short sweeps of Johnny Marr’s signature, jangly guitar chords synchronized to the fervent pounds of Mike Joyce’s drums. A velvety bass line follows shortly after. Morrissey’s whines and wallops suddenly interrupt the musical interplay—”Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools/spineless swine/cemented minds….I want to go home, I don’t want to stay.” A sprawling presentation of sound is similarly brought forth in songs like “Nowhere Fast,” “Barbarism Begins At Home,” and “I Want The One I Can’t Have”, where Morrissey brazenly croons I want the one I can’t have…and it’s driving me mad/ It’s written all over my face,” as Marr continues to captivate with his use of disjointed chords and fluttering notes. The melodrama found in slower songs like “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Meat is Murder”, and “Well I Wonder” is balanced out with peppier songs such as “Rusholme Ruffians” and “What She Said”, all while still holding evidence of sardonic taunts–“What she said was sad/ But then all the rejection she’s had/ To pretend to be happy/could only be idiocy”.
For most Smiths fans, however, the musical highpoint of Meat is Murder is “How Soon is Now?” The song opens with a salient 7 seconds of eerie tremolo that secured The Smiths their spot in alt-rock history. “How Soon is Now?” is often regarded as one of the prime examples of Marr’s experimental guitar work, where he creates a muddled but melodic atmosphere, all while armed with a plethora of guitar effects—the recurring wails, dreary chimes of guitar harmonics, and the haunting tremolo that continuously reverberates throughout all 6 minutes of the song—as Morrissey dramatically moans ‘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’. Though only 10 songs and 46 minutes long, Meat is Murder presents listeners with an extensive range of lush instrumentation and satiric, lyrical wit.
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