So we’re listening through the Smiths albums that aren’t the three essential ones—The Queen Is Dead, Singles, Louder Than Bombs—looking for standout tracks. Yesterday we combed through The Smiths, and today beings us to:
MEAT IS MURDER (1985)
Whatever your dietary politics are, we might agree that this one is, alas, the Smiths’ weakest—just like most burgers, it contains a lot of filler. But there are still some forgotten gems:
Track 1. “The Headmaster Ritual”
Now this is an opener! A very solid song, it also amply demonstrates the much higher recording quality that this album boasts over The Smiths. (Supposedly Morrissey and Marr handled a lot of the recording and mixing themselves this time around.) This rather textured song immediately shows off a very different side of the Smiths, partly due to Morrissey demonstrating a far wider range than he did on the first album. (And listen for some odd backing vocals close to the four-minute mark.)
And while it begrudges me to say something nice about Radiohead, they managed a pretty nice cover of this track:
Track 5. “Well I Wonder”
I rarely hear anyone mention this song, which perplexes me, because it’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. It’s extremely catchy, with arguably Marr’s most delicate playing on the entire album. (It’s a clear forerunner of “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”) Layered and nuanced, it also gives Morrissey plenty of room to stretch out and wail—he even breaks into a completely non-ironic falsetto:
And there’s rain at the end. A simply brilliant tune.
Track 8. “Barbarism Begins at Home”
AKA, the song that should always be played at Smiths Dance Night:
As for the rest—well, there’s that filler I mentioned. “Rusholme Ruffians” and “What She Said” both start promisingly enough, but then go nowhere fast. Speaking of which, “Nowhere Fast” is almost good enough—I quite like its tempo shifts and guitar effects, and its lyrics are really top-notch:
I’d like to drop my trousers to the world
I am a man of means (of slender means)
Each household appliance
Is like a new science in my town
And if the day came when I felt a
I’d get such a shock I’d probably jump
In the ocean
And when a train goes by
It’s such a sad sound
It’s such a sad thing…
—but, ultimately, it plays like a weaker retread of the utterly brilliant “Still Ill,” and it pales in comparison to the three we pulled out above. (Let’s listen to “Well I Wonder” again…!)
Similarly, I want “I Want the One I Can’t Have” to be better than it is, and it almost gets there, but it also remains a fairly anonymous-sounding Smiths song (despite being, as is par for this album, really superbly recorded).
As for the notorious title (and final) track, it has, once again, most excellent production values; the real problem with it isn’t its pretty preachy politics, but the fact that it’s an underwhelming tune.
And there’s “How Soon Is Now,” which is great, and the album’s sole single, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” which is perfectly fine—but they are both, of course, available on Singles.
Still, we’ve ended up with three more tracks to add to our seven from yesterday! (Plus we’ve uncovered “Well I Wonder.”) Not too bad—but MIM would seem to deserve its reputation as the weakest overall Smiths LP.
Next up: Strangeways, Here We Come, a much, much better album…