I posted this review on Amazon.com on March 11, 2007, exactly seven years and 11 months ago. Today, on this, the day of the 30th anniversary of its release (February 11, 1985), I repost it here on BlakeMadsBlog.
The Smiths’ second album of new material is essential listening for an unlikely reason: it contains some the band’s most mediocre songs. Now, “mediocre” is a relative term of course, considering that we are talking about the greatest band to emerge in the last quarter-century, i.e., since The Jam broke up in ’82. It isn’t that Morrissey’s voice sounds bad (how could it?), or that Johnny Marr’s guitar playing is less than tasteful. It’s just that somehow the words and the music just aren’t as great as one would expect.
Most of the tracks on this album are not particularly well-known ones. However, “How Soon Is Now?” pops up in the middle of the American issue. This is one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs. It is not, however, one my personal favorites, if for no other reason than it is over six-and-a-half minutes long. For a group whose music is informed by classic pop ideals, The Smiths sure have a tendency to let their songs run a bit too long. This is especially to the detriment of the closing tracks. The nearly 7-minute “Barbarism Begins at Home” is quite good, as is the title track (even if it is a bit, dare I say, ham-fisted), but they just go on forever, and therefore lose some of their impact in the process.
Other than “How Soon Is Now?”, the only song that will be familiar to neophyte Smiths fans is the excellent single “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, which includes the fathomlessly clever line “It was dark as I drove the point home.”
Not surprisingly, The Smiths are more successful with shorter songs. “What She Said,” “Nowhere Fast,” and “Well I Wonder” are the album’s best songs. “I Want the One I Can’t Have,”on the other hand, expresses what was even by this point in his career a pretty trite Morrissey sentiment. And I still haven’t mentioned the opening tracks, “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Rusholme Ruffians.” Sadly, there isn’t really much to say about them, apart from that they sound a bit juvenile and uninspired. (Although the “Marie’s the Name of His Latest Flame” riff on the latter is a nice touch).
Given the excitement that had built up around The Smiths by 1985, it is not surprising that Meat Is Murder entered the UK album chart at #1. Fans were certainly justified in their expectations for the album, and were right to rush out and by it. Unfortunately, the material on the album proved to be disappointing by any standards. Fortunately, it was not enough to bring down the band’s hopes, as they re-emerged in the finest form of their career with their next release (The Queen Is Dead). While Meat Is Murder is not essential in the all-embracing sense of the term, it is worth hearing for that very reason. After all, every great band has at least one album that demonstrates what they sound like at their not-so-great. In the case of The Smiths, that album is Meat Is Murder.