Stereogum has reminded us that The Smiths’ Meat is Murder turns 25 today. Records have birthdays all the time. This year alone, lots of important records will celebrate their 25th birthday: Rain Dogs, Pscyhocandy, Tim, Head on the Door, Beat Happening, New Day Rising, Bad Moon Rising, Low-Life, Frankenchrist, This Nation’s Saving Grace, Fables of the Reconstruction, Freaky Styley. All of these albums should be celebrated because you can trace a line directly from so many of these records to the sounds that dominate contemporary bands. So, why are we celebrating Meat is Murder‘s birthday? Why not wait until next year when we can celebrate the pinnacle of The Smiths’ career, The Queen is Dead?
The most obvious answer here is that this is the record where The Smiths became The Smiths. The punk-lite snarl of The Smiths gives way on Meat is Murder to a wider sound and more inclusive content. From the rockabilly guitar figures of “Nowhere Fast” to the sad strum of “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” the album broadened the sound the The Smiths could make. On Meat is Murder the gladiolas-in-the-back-pocket-romanticism of their debut gets paired with Morrissey’s political and social observations to create a two-headed beast.
Of course, The Smiths are best remembered for their anthems for the lonely, the awkward, the shy, the sexually confused and frustrated. Sometimes I think this is an unfortunate fate for the band because it invariably says more about the fan base of The Smiths than it does about the band. We all find The Smiths when we’re lonely and awkward and sexually frustrated, so it’s easily to forget the political and social concerns of the band. Morrissey always made the political personal, which may be why we feel so connected to his songs that aren’t about romantic misery. Who hasn’t heard “The Headmaster Ritual” and not loathed their 9th grade gym teacher? Meat is Murder is their most overtly political record (Morrissey would get more vocal about politics in his solo career). And then there is the titular track. The song has always made me squirm; the buzzsaw at the end is more effective than any graphic video PETA could release. The kitchen sink realism of much of Meat is Murder helped define the most underappreciated aspects of the band.
But Meat is Murder will always be celebrated first and foremost because it is the record that contains “How Soon is Now?” With its vibrating chords and passing-car slide guitar and George Eliot lyrics, the song is justifiably lauded. It’s ironic that the song, which was relegated to the b-sde of “William, It Was Really Nothing” because a Rough Trade exec didn’t think it was very representative of the band’s sound, has now become the trademark song of The Smiths. Even for people who don’t like The Smiths, “How Soon is Now?” is a classic. The song’s central sentiment (“I am human, and I need to be loved”) is so broad that to fail to identify with it would be, well, inhuman.
While Meat is Murder is not The Smiths’ best album (that would be The Queen is Dead), it marks an important turning point in the band’s career. This is the moment when the band went from being very very good to being the most indispensable band in your record collection. This is why The Smiths got you through high school, college, break-ups, hook ups, committed relationships, identity crises, national elections, your darkest moments of doubt. This is when The Smiths reminded you that you were not alone.
Rhino recently reissued all The Smith’s original LPs on sturdy 180-gram vinyl in gatefold sleeves. If you have some extra money sitting around, I would highly recommend purchasing these beauties here.