Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Album Listening Club - Meat Is Murder discussion

This Album Listening Club selection was chosen by the members of the Club (sign up here!) from the top 5 albums of 1985 as voted on by Slicing Up Eyeballs readers. The fine folks at Slicing Up Eyeballs were kind enough to go along with this crazy cross-blog crossover idea that I had. Thanks!

1985 was a watershed year for me. There was a lot going on for me emotionally and physically, and perhaps that's why the music from that year is so strongly embedded in my psyche. (I actually think 1985 might be the best year for music, ever.)

"Nowhere Fast" - Morrissey/Marr
I didn't discover Meat Is Murder until autumn of the year I started high school. There was a girl in one of my classes - I'm not sure how we met, other than sitting next to each other. She had teased-up dyed black hair and wore goth-style clothes & makeup, for which I'll admit to always having a weakness. In plain terms, I had a complete crush on her, and she seemed so confident and cool and all the things you think about other kids at that age. (There's a story of how I almost ended up dating her best friend's older sister, but…perhaps on another blog.) Some days she would take my spiral notebooks and write in them. Through some investigation, I eventually found that what she was writing were lyrics from Meat Is Murder.

I was already a Smiths fan, having discovered Hatful of Hollow while on a spring break trip with my friend earlier that year in Fallbrook, CA. Something in Morrissey's forlorn, pleading, aching lyrics connected directly to my adolescent brain. Meat Is Murder - with its clear anti-meat and anti-school/bullying/authority stance - both challenged and drew me in further.

The album was released on February 11th, 1985 without the song that many know as the centerpiece of the album, "How Soon Is Now?", which was added to the US & Canadian releases because of the song's popularity. The track was removed from the album on the subsequent Johnny Marr-remastered releases in 2009. (Angus Batey makes the case very solidly on The Quietus that the song doesn't really belong on the album.)

I'll put more of my personal thoughts about the album in the comments. But here's the short of it: I love it. 2nd favorite Smiths studio album. Now let's hear from you all!

"Rusholme Ruffians" - Morrissey/Marr

7 comments:

  1. I've mentioned that I knew the lyrics to a couple songs before I knew the actual songs themselves, which I think helped me get more out of this album lyrically than I normally would have. Usually I hear the music and then get into the lyrics later. Possibly a vocal melody can draw me in, but lyrics are typically secondary in those early listens - as can happen with popular music. I can maybe think of a few artists that the lyrics as a whole jumped out more immediately - Billy Bragg's Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, for example.

    Then again, when Morrissey starts songs with bits like "I'd like to drop my trousers to the world," you listen. :) I suppose I would have made the effort to find out what he was singing regardless. He earned that effort from me with "Reel Around The Fountain" and "Back To The Old House" on Hatful of Hollow. :)

    Meat Is Murder (the album) strikes me as a very earnest album, not moreso than their debut, but doesn't contain the overtly amusing songs ("Frankly, Mr. Shankly," "Girlfriend In A Coma") that appeared on later albums.

    My two favorite songs on this record are opposites in tempo, but not in the emotion behind them. "I Want The One I Can't Have" is up front in its longing, with the quick backbeat providing the urgency. This isn't "I want that person whenever I can have them," it's "I want them NOW." "Well I Wonder" is a different kind of longing, more passive, one that finds the singer worn down by the world to the point of passivity. "Well I wonder/Do you see me when we pass? Please keep me in mind…" The urgency is gone, replaced with an unassertive gesture to be noticed. The listener knows that no attention will be forthcoming.

    Musically, the record is as strong and interesting as the other Smiths records. Marr's way of crafting tunes that were interesting enough to not get buried beneath Morrissey's words is, to me, what made The Smiths as strong of a group as they were. That said, for me this album is all about Andy Rourke's bass sound and playing. From the walking line that anchors "The Headmaster Ritual" to the lively bounce in "Rusholme Ruffians", the gliding melancholy that supports "Well I Wonder" to the precise funk of "Barbarism Begins At Home," it's apparent that his bass as much as Marr's guitars are the sound of The Smiths. You can really hear his input on the first three albums, but by Strangeways, Here We Come and Louder Than Bombs, his bass seems to be pushed back in the mix, and the later songs sound differently because of it.

    And to round out, let's discuss the cow in the room, shall we? "Meat Is Murder" the song gets a bad rap for being maudlin or overstating its case: "And the flesh you so fancifully fry/is not succulent, tasty or kind/It's death for no reason/And death for no reason is murder." To me, though, it continues to serve as a cue to recall that to eat meat is to take the life of another living being, and that should not be taken lightly. The amount of meat that I do eat on a regular basis would assure that Morrissey would not likely have me as a friend (not that we were in danger of falling into each other's favor anytime soon), but his admonishment spoke cleanly to this kid who had grown up in the foothills of Colorado and for whom meat was just what we ate. I don't know that the concept of vegetarianism ever crossed my mind before hearing this song (surely it did…I think), but this song was (and remains) a wake-up call to living a conscious life.

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  2. When I first heard the Smiths I had no idea what they were doing. I heard these lyrically rich melodies, affected vocals and these really odd sort of swing style rhythms and I thought these should be folk tunes, in the style of Fairport Convention or something. Then some of Johnny Mars guitar licks broke through and I was even more confused. Occasionally they'd drop the swing rhythm and move toward something more pop but the choruses just weren't coming to together in any conventional way. I eventually just dismissed them as weird Brits trying to do poetry/art/jazz/pop/80s new wave, and like trying to blend all the colors into one it just came out sounding grey to me.

    SO I wasn't a big fan. Didn't listen to them much. I heard a lot of talk from others about how much the Smiths meant to them and thought, well to each his own. In the 2000s I started to hear a lot of other artist covering the Smiths, and I realized the songs buried underneath all those stylings were really magnificent.

    I was interested to give them another listen to see how I experienced them all these years later. I still think there's still way too much style in their style (for lack of a better term), but something more straight forward, cleaner and more simple just wouldn't suit them. Listening to Meat is Murder now it's hard for me to get past the eighties production style as well. I think I may never be able to sit and listen to the Smiths contentedly. It will always wear like and ill-fitting garment, but one you want to hang onto in the hopes that someday it will fit.

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    1. That is FANTASTIC! I so rarely meet people who don't like The Smiths. :) I mean, sure, people bag on Morrissey all the time, I've been used to that for years, but most seem to still connect to it.

      Yes, the songs are magnificent. :)

      Interestingly, I do agree with you somewhat in that the first songs that I really loved by The Smiths were the early slow ones - "Reel Around The Fountain," "Back To The Old House," "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." I didn't come around to your "Hand In Glove"s and "Handsome Devil"s until more recently. I do know what you're saying about the swing rhythms and busy-ness of the songs.

      I really love the production of Meat Is Murder - I find it cleaner than a lot of what came after. Interestingly, they produced the album themselves, and you can hear how different it is than "How Soon Is Now?," the last song John Porter produced for them.

      That Angus Batey article that I linked to does make a great case for "How Soon Is Now?" not being a proper MIM track, and I think since I heard it prior to MIM on Hatful of Hollow, I agree. So the production of MIM without that is more cohesive. I love how Rourke's bass pops, Johnny's riffs are up front with the lyrics. It's definitely of a time, and for me that time is post-disco slick and MOR wash, and pre-DX7s and Jeff Lynne production precision. It's loose and dense (most of the time) and that's what I love about it.

      But that's me. I'm glad you're not much of a fan. I haven't met many of you. :)

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    2. I know it's weird. I like all the parts separated out but together...I don't know...what can I say.

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    3. I can totally understand where you're coming from. The music *is* busy, but just in a way that I like, I guess. :)

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  3. Love The Smiths but it took me a bit to get into them. I recall a friend playing their debut album and I wasn't immediately a fan. I liked some of it but the country/swing elements I wasn't too sure about since I wasn't a fan of those genres at that time (still not a huge fan but have an appreciation for those genres more now). I think The Smiths might have been responsible for opening my mind to those genres though since they turned them on their ear sonically.

    My Smiths friend played this album for me when it came out and although I liked it more than their debut I still wasn't fully sold. It wasn't until 'The Queen Is Dead' album came out that I became a full fledged fan. By that time I was starting to venture into folk rock which opened my mind more. But I eventually bought this lp after I p/u 'The Queen Is Dead' & was fully turned onto their sound.

    I must say this isn't my favorite Smiths album though. That would be their swan song 'Strangeways Here We Come' which had such a lush production and is just sonically gorgeous and layered. I appreciate and enjoy this album but my real favorite is their singles compilation 'Louder Than Bombs' which, at the time, I didn't know was a singles comp. and it wasn't until years later that I found out it was one.

    I just love the sarcastic humor of Morrissey's lyrics. To me they were so refreshing and unusual to what was happening at the time. Also, being a gay man who came out in '90 Morrissey's embracing of his attraction to men (even though he said he was asexual) was a great model for me to see in action. It was amazing to me that he could be so open about it and be lauded for it. I also could relate to his lyrics about alienation & rejection as well.

    So again, although this isn't my fave TS album it's still great and a classic.

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    1. Yeah, I like the first album for the songs that I'd previously heard on Hatful of Hollow. The other songs are ok, I do like "Suffer Little Children". While that first record contains 2 of my favorite Smiths songs ("Reel Around The Fountain" & "Still Ill"), it's my least favorite Smiths record as a whole. Maybe tied with Strangeways. I like the cleaner production.

      Which isn't to say that I dislike any of their records. :) Any Smiths record is still better than most albums every day of the week. :) My unabashed favorite Smiths record is Hatful of Hollow, but like Louder than Bombs, it's a collection of live versions & singles, etc.

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