"Meat Is Murder"
February 1985


The Headmaster Ritual
Rusholme Ruffians
I Want The One I Can't Have
What She Said
That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
How Soon Is Now? *
Nowhere Fast
Well I Wonder
Barbarism Begins At Home
Meat Is Murder

UK CD [Rough Trade ROUGHCD81]
UK CS [Rough Trade ROUGHC81]
UK LP [Rough Trade ROUGH81]
UK LP [Rhino UK ROURH81; 2009 reissue on 180g LP]
UK/Europe CD [2012 reissue on Warner/Rhino ‎2564660486]
UK/Europe LP [2012 reissue on Rhino Records 2564665878]
Argentina CS [DG Discos/Buelax Music 10001-0]
Argentina LP [DG Discos/Buelax Music 10001-1]
Australia CD [CBS 451068-2] *
Australia CD [1988 reissue on Festival D30107]
Australia CD [1993 reissue on Warner Australia 450991895-2] *
Australia CS [CBS RTCANZ010] *
Australia CS [1988 reissue on Festival C30107]
Australia LP [CBS RTANZ010] *
Australia LP [1988 reissue on Festival L30107]
Brazil CS [WEA ??]
Brazil LP [WEA 610.7063/39.001]
Canada CD [Sire CD-25269] *
Canada CS [Sire 92 52694] *
Canada LP [Sire 92 52691] *
Canada LP [Sire/Columbia House W1 25269] *
Europe CD [WEA 450991895-2] *
Europe CS [WEA 450991895-4] *
Europe 10 [WEA 450991894-1]
France CD [Virgin 30258]
France CS [Virgin 50314]
France LP [Virgin 70314]
Germany LP [RT Deutschland RTD28]
Greece CS [EMI/Virgin 262VG50108]
Greece LP [EMI/Virgin VG50108]
Holland LP [Megadisc MD7999]
Ireland(?) CS [Rough Trade ROUGHC81]
Israel LP [Rough Trade ROUGH81]
Italy CS [Rough Trade/Virgin ROUGK 781]
Italy LP [Rough Trade/Virgin ROUGH81]
Italy LP [Rough Trade/CGD RGH20900]
Japan CD [Tokuma Japan 32JC-108] *
Japan CD [1987 reissue on Victor VDP-5075] *
Japan CD [1990 reissue on Victor VICP-2003] *
Japan CD [1993 reissue on WEA WMC5-544] *
Japan CD [1995 reissue on WEA WPCR-303] *
Japan CD [1997 reissue on WEA WPCR-2510] *
Japan CD [2006 reissue on WEA WPCR-12440] *
Japan LP [Tokuma Japan 25RTL-3001] *
Japan LP [1987 reissue on Victor VIP-4216] *
Malaysia CS [Sanada Magnetic Tapes 21-85]
New Zealand LP [CBS RTRANZ010] *
New Zealand CS [CBS RTCANZ010] *
Philippines CS [DVNA Products MC-ROUGH-81]
Philippines LP [DVNA Products TC-ROUGH-81]
Portugal CS [Transmedia TM/RT 81C]
Portugal LP [Transmedia TM/RT 81]
Saudi Arabia CS [747 New Wave 9691]
Saudi Arabia CS [Thomsun Original EN-151]
Spain CS [Nuevos Medios 44-124C]
Spain LP [Nuevos Medios 43-123L]
Sweden LP [MNW ROUGH81]
Taiwan CS [Crystal ROUGHC81]
Uruguay LP [Variety 365887]
Uruguay CS [Variety 465.887]
USA CD [Sire 9 25269-2] *
USA CD [Sire/BMG Direct 9 25269-2/D102693] *
USA CD [2012 reissue on Sire/Rhino R2 520965]
USA CS [Sire 9 25269-4] *
USA LP [Sire 9 25269-1] *
USA LP [Rhino R1 520965; 2009 reissue on 180g LP]
(unknown) CS [?? CS 5064]


Additional information:
* "How Soon Is Now" was featured as bonus track on all formats released by Sire in the USA and Canada (including record club editions), on all formats released by Tokuma and Victor in Japan, on all formats released in Australia and New Zealand on CBS, as well as on all WEA/Warner cd and cassette reissues from 1993-2006. The song is not listed in the track listing on the back of the USA and Canada Sire LP sleeves even though it is included.

The 2006 Japanese cd reissue is slipped inside a mini-replica of the original Tokuma Japan LP sleeve. Even the inner sleeve, obi and label are replicas of the ones with the original LP pressing. For this reason, bonus track "How Soon Is Now?" is not mentioned on the sleeve or within the lyrics even though it is featured on this edition.

The picture disc, the green vinyl, the white vinyl and the multi-coloured splatter LP editions on Rough Trade are actually bootleg reproductions made in 2007.

The UK edition of the 2009 LP reissue includes a coupon with an offer to download the album on MP3 format. This was not offered with the USA edition.

The 2012 UK/Europe Rhino reissues on compact disc and LP are identical to the editions found inside the 2011 "Complete" box set.


Artwork information:
The soldier photo is taken from Emile de Antonio's "In The Year Of The Pig" film [1968]. The words "Meat Is Murder" on the soldier's helmet were originally "Make war not love" (view original artwork left). The photos appear four times on the LP artwork, but only once on the CDs and cassettes. In Australia (early pressings on CBS and Festival), the USA, Canada, and on the Japanese 2006 reissue, the LP artwork (replicated soldier) was used for CDs and cassettes as well.

A faded out version of the soldier appears again on the LP's inner sleeve and inside the cassette insert.


Etchings on vinyl:
(only on original Rough Trade release and Rhino reissue, not on the WEA reissue)
Wythenshawe is the area of Manchester where Johnny Marr grew up.
Holland: HOLLAND CUTTING / none


Additional release date information:
UK LP and cassette: 11/14 February 1985
Japan LP and CD: 25 March 1985
UK cd: April 1985
USA/Canada cd: 7 July 1987
UK/Europe WEA re-releases: 15 November 1993
Australia WEA 1993 re-release: 12 December 1993
Japan WEA 1993 re-release: 10 December 1993
Japan WEA 1997 re-release: 25 November 1997
Japan WEA 2006 re-release: 13 September 2006
UK 2009 reissue: 6 July 2009
USA 2009 reissue: 25 August 2009
UK 2012 reissues: 26 March 2012
USA 2012 cd reissue: 3 April 2012


Chart peak information:
UK: 1
USA: 110


UK: Gold on 18 February 1985


UK: The album was supposedly promoted in the UK with white label copies of the LP format. It is not impossible that promo stickers were slipped inside some copies. A month before the release of the album, two different promo-only 12" of "Barbarism Begins At Home" were sent to radio, both numbered RTT171 (view artwork in left frame). The first featured only the album version and the other had both the album version and a 3:48 edit. They usually came with a Rush Release Promotions press sheet on red paper or a 2-page press release/crowd response form.

Argentina: White-label copies of the LP were distributed inside the usual stock sleeve for promotion.

Australia: Promotion at the time of the album's original release was done via promo copies of the LP. These were identical to their stock counterparts, except for the black and white 'hat man' labels, and a promo stamp on the inner sleeve. The Festival reissues from 1988 were promoted with copies of the stock LP with a DJ COPY NOT FOR SALE sticker on the label.

Brazil: Promo LPs were stamped in red ink on the labels, and in gold on the back of the sleeve.

Canada: Gold-stamped copies of the stock LP were distributed for promotion. The promo 7" mentioned on the "How Soon Is Now?" page served to promote this album as well as that single.

France: Copies of the stock LP emboss-stamped DISQUE GRATUIT INTERDIT A LA VENTE in the sleeve's corner were dispatched for promotion of this album. Virgin in France also produced a 2-version promo 12" of "Barbarism Begins At Home" (Virgin SA3013), as did Rough Trade UK. Unlike them, the record wasn't slipped inside a picture sleeve, but a generic Virgin Records one, either blue or yellow or occasionally white with a Virgin sticker on it.

Germany: Stock copies of the LP were paired with 3 press releases and dispatched for promotion.

Greece: Stock copies were stamped and had a hole punched into them so they could be used as promos.

Holland: A one-sided promo 7" of "The Headmaster Ritual" (MD7999/01) was pressed in Holland to promote this album.

Israel: Promotional copies of the LP had a record company sticker on the back.

Italy: Stock copies of the LP were pin-stamped CAMPIONE GRATUITO in a corner of the sleeve and dispatched for promotion.

Japan: Promotion of the original release was done via copies of the LP format with a white SAMPLE sticker on the sleeve and the usual extra 3-character promo text printed on the label. Promo cds for the 1987, 1990 and 1993 (and possibly 1995 and 1997) reissues have a promo sticker on the case or on the obi, and promo text on the cds' inner ring. The promo cds for the 2006 reissue in LP-replica sleeve have a white and red promo sticker on the back of the obi and 'sample loaned' etched on the cd's inner ring.

Uruguay: Promo LPs and cassettes are stock copies with the promo warning "Para difusion / Prohibida la venta" stamped in ink on the labels and on the inside flap of the cassette insert.

USA: The main means of promotion of this album was through gold-stamped copies of the stock LP. A promo 12" of "The Headmaster Ritual" (Sire, PRO-A-2333) was also distributed in the USA in March of 1985. It featured the album version on one side, and an edit by Phil Brown on the other (in die-cut sleeve, no artwork). The promo 7" mentioned on the "How Soon Is Now?" page served to promote this album as well as that single. A radio show called the Warner Bros Music Show, in which Morrissey was interviewed about the album, was distributed to relevant media. Excerpts of every song from the album plus current UK single "Shakespeare's Sister" were featured on it, interspersed with bits of Morrissey discussing the tracks. A press kit including a 3-page bio and a 8x10 photo was sent to radio and other relevent media.



"I must say that the material on the second official LP, which we're recording right now, is stronger than ever. We're still using the traditional, fundamental instruments and keeping it very basic."
- Morrissey, Jamming!, December, 1984

The title track of your new LP Meat Is Murder seems to be pretty direct.
"Hmm, yes, it is a direct statement. Of all the political topics to be scrutinised people are still disturbingly vague about the treatment of animals. People still seem to believe that meat is a particular substance not at all connected to animals playing in the field over there. People don't realise how gruesomely and frighteningly the animal gets to the plate..."
- Morrissey, NME, 22/29 December 1984

"The whole idea with 'Meat Is Murder' was to control it totally, and without a producer things were better. We saw things clearer."
- Morrissey, March 1985 (source unknown)

Where did the image come from on the cover of the LP? That makes a link between war and, well, meat is murder.
"Yes, it does. And the link is that I feel animal rights groups aren't making any dramatic headway because most of their methods are quite peaceable, excluding one or two things. It seems to me now that when you try to change things in a peaceable manner, you're actually wasting your time and you're laughed out of court. And it seems to me now that as the image of the LP hopefully illustrates, the only way that we can get rid of such things as the meat industry, and other things like nuclear weapons, is by really giving people a taste of their own medicine."
- Morrissey, Melody Maker, 16 March 1985

Several of the songs on the new LP seem to have a much more direct and stronger narrative line than on the first LP...
"Yes, they do. That's certainly there. I didn't really have any intention of being misunderstood with the words on this LP. A lot of people wrote about the first LP and they said things that were very poetic and very interesting and absolutely inaccurate. So I just felt that on this LP people should really know which hammer I'm trying to nail, as it were."
- Morrissey, Melody Maker, 16 March 1985

"The album 'Meat Is Murder' I still rate very highly but again stuff like 'Nowhere Fast' could have been done better."
- Johnny Marr, Melody Maker, 2 August 1985

"My favourite song on that LP now is 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'. I think Morrissey is incredible on that, the end is brilliant. 'Well I Wonder' I really like as well. It's one of those things that a modern group could try and emulate but never get the spirit of. It's so simple. 'The Headmaster Ritual' was a favourite of mine for a long time just because I'm really pleased with the guitars on it and the strange tuning... For my part, 'The Headmaster Ritual' came together over the longest period of time I've ever spent on a song. I first played the riff to Morrissey when we were working on the demos for our first album with Troy Tate. I nailed the rest of it when we moved to Earls Court. That was around the time when we were being fabulous."
- Johnny Marr, Record Collector, November/December 1992

"It's not stood up as well as 'Revolver' but there's some great songs on it. 'Nowhere Fast' is a great song. For a long time 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' was my favourite Smiths song, and it's still one of my favourites. 'Well I Wonder''s on it too. They sum up the atmosphere of The Smiths at the time - quite bleak."
- Johnny Marr, Select, December 1993

"The Hatful Of Hollow Radio 1 sessions were really just banged out and ended up sounding great, so I thought, 'Why use a name producer? We'll do it ourselves.' I really like That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, the title track and The Headmaster Ritual - as guitar pieces they took me a long time to do, and songs like that don't come around that often. The nuts and bolts of The Headmaster Ritual came together during the first album, and I just carried on playing around with it. It started off as a very sublime sort of Joni Mitchell-esque chord figure; I played it to Morrissey but we never took it further. Then, as my life got more and more intense, so did the song. The bridge and the chorus part were originally for another song, but I put them together with the first part. That was unusual for me; normally I just hammer away at an idea until I've got a song. It's in open D turning, with a capo at the second fret. Again, it was heavily overdubbed. It was a very exciting period for me - realising I could hijack 16 tracks all for myself... In hindsight, I wasn't happy with the overall sound. I think it's too thin. And artistically, I think Meat Is Murder is the least successful of all The Smiths' albums. Some of the songs are just played too fast. That's me - I'm terrible for just speeding things up. Super hyper!"
- Johnny Marr, The Guitar Magazine, January 1997



"Expanding on the folk-pop classicism of their debut, this second studio album is far more dynamic and diverse, allowing Marr to rock out with fiery panache while Morrissey aims lyrical shots at the monarchy, carnivores, his former teachers and other sitting ducks. (****)"
- Stephen Dalton, Uncut, 1998

"'Meat Is Murder' is brilliant, a catherine wheel of inspired language nailed to a sometimes unnervingly evocative and beautiful guitar music."
- Danny Kelly, NME, 8 August 1987

Steak Your Claim
**** 1/2

"If 'How Soon Is Now' is the sound of a good thing spread thin, a needless and mis-timed repackaging of a modest Diddleyesque doodle, then 'Meat' is something for Smiths consumers to get their teeth into.
Running the gamut 'from Smiths-by-numbers aural heartburn to raucous rockouts of truly non-Mancunian mayhem' (copyright G Bushell), the second album 'proper' from Rough Trade's very own Red Cross parcel screams LESSON LEARNT! and NEW INFLUENCES MASTERED! Thus old and lazy accusations of tears-in-my-Vimto Northern working-class self pity hitched to a one trick pony of a musical backing must now be buried: this band have come a long way since their muted, at times even moribund, debut.
If the Smiths' sound is a cathedral (ahem!) then messers Rourke and Joyce of 'the bass guitar' and 'the drums' respectively are at once the civilisation-deep foundations and the breath-snatching flying buttresses, Kirby-kissing a precocious guitar riff or buffeting the otherwise suave folksiness of a song like 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'.
Johnny Marr, for his sins, is in the pulpit and louder in the mix than ever before with his screeching, preaching guitar. Bold enough to summon the ghost of Scotty Moore for 'Nowhere Fast' or his bastard grandson Gary for the sub HM filing of 'What She Said', the magician Marr is equally happy hugging Morrissey's voluminous skirts - with just a hand free to brush a mellow acoustic.
And what of the Whalley Ranger himself? Poor put-upon, passed-over Morrissey divides his time between the confession box and the pews, inhabiting his curious, luxurious netherworld where cars still boast leather upholstery and the air 'hangs heavy like a dulling wine' ('Rusholme Ruffians'). He continues to act out the life of a John Braine hero: heart beating fast beneath a crisp white shirt, simultaneously warmed and wearied by small town mores.
Snapping out of it long enough to deliver a sermon on animal rights (the chilling title track is topped and tailed with the sounds of a slaughter house going about its business), Morrissey's proselytising endeavours to take the Smiths beyond the cloisters of his own introspection in much the same way as 'Suffer Little Children' did on the first album. But he'll never convince me that one man's nut loaf isn't another man's baked nosepickings, if you see what I mean.
Incidentally, the only turkey on this album is the brave but lead-booted funk of 'Barbarism Begins At Home'. But there again, one man's meat is another man's..."
- Bill Black (source unknown)

Eat to the Beat
"Life as a rock journalist is not all beer and skittles, you know. Occasionally we are unchained from our Gold American Express cards and frogmarched to some hellish place where work is to be done.
Just such a thing happened recently. A clutch of our whimpering number found themselves chez those strange creatures from the Rough Trade record empire (habitat: Habitat), an airy room refreshingly clear of the expected bongs and scatter-cushions. Our purpose? Tressle tables groaning with all manner of bloodless comestible - vindaloo pizza, Lymeswold quiche, non-brown rice, bean-sprouts au Chinoise, Waldorf salad, prairies of lettuce, plutonium blancmange, ideologically sound bread and copious beverages from approved nations - told their own story.
We were to eat.
Furthermore we were to eat to the beat of'Meat Is Murder', the second LP proper by Ye Smythes, that popular quartet from the distant Northern town of Manchester.
Yes, we who have dedicated the previous 18 months of our lives to hyping this crazy combo of cheeseplant and surgical rubberwear salesmen to the very pinnacle of their profession were once more to provide a toothsome appetiser print-wise a week or two before the inevitable deluge of in-depth analysis, recrimination, half-time commentary, final score, soup-to-nuts and the bill. Bon apetit!
Thus it was that our chomping was rudely interrupted by the sinister Outer Limits voice of RT grand vizier Scott Piering over the PA claiming that 'Meat Is Murder'succeeds beyond all expectations and would go numero uno sure as he was standing here... and of course he'd disappeared to the lav halfway through that last sentence, leaving a tell-tale tape-recorder spinning in his wake.
My, how we laughed into our macrobiotic munchies!
The album? Bribery prevents me from revealing much more than that I think Scott is spot on the money. Johnny Marr's music and production embraces Sun-era rock'n'roll, quasi-HM, folk and psychedelia in a surge of energy and intensity, firmly kissing off that wimp tag. The promise of 'How Soon Is Now' is here fulfilled.
As for Morrissey, he dances the seven veils of self-revelation almost to the point of shining clarity. 'The Headmaster Ritual', 'Rusholme Ruffians' and 'What She Said' revisit old haunts as one might expect, whilst 'Barbarism Begins At Home' and the title track mean it maaaaan... The first rad-veg chart-topping LP? 'Twould be just desserts indeed."
- Mat Snow (source unknown)

Top of the Chops
"That natural Northern charm, bred in the back-to-backs and cobblestone alleyways, shyly smiling, quipping couplets of love forlorn and bungled romance, over those infectiously syncopated rhythms. All this can only mean one man...
Yes, George Formby.
However, it's not George we're here for, but a man who's declared an admiration for the Lancashire minstrel and could arguably be seen as his successor. Steven Patrick Morrissey and his popular Smiths band return with this their second 'proper' album, following last year's incandescent debut and the intermediary 'Hatful Of Hollow' compilation job. At the least, 'Meat Is Murder' equals its illustrious predecessors. Given some growing time, it could even better them.
Lyrically, these nine new tracks display the Bard of Whalley Range at his most direct. Disciplined and succinct, each song relates an affecting tale or makes a point with killing precision. Musically, writer Johnny Marr contributes a clutch of his best melodies yet, plus some of that captivating and thoughtful guitar work which moves a number like 'How Soon Is Now' into major league greatness.
It's not as if the words and music sound 'made for each other': they don't. Of course, they don't clash or contradict, they simply work independently of each other. Morrissey's singing preserves a quality of solitude; the instruments and voice operate in eerie detachment, but often to beautiful effect. Morrissey and Marr don't so much sink their talents into one as give you two for the price of one.
Thus the opener, 'The Headmaster Ritual': Marr constructs a lengthy, intricately-patterned intro, vaguely Beatle-ish. Eventually, practically at random, the vocals float forward to slap you about the head: 'Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools/Spineless swines, cemented minds'. Next, on 'Rusholme Ruffians', Morrissey sounds pushed to keep himself abreast of a brisk, rockabilly-skifflebeat.
Both songs deal with the violence that runs in a malevolent undercurrent through the album, spilling to the surface amid the abbatoir gore of the final and title track 'Meat Is Murder'. It's as if the slaughter we inflict on animals is just the crudest expression of the subtler thuggery employed in humans' everyday dealings with one another. This, admittedly, is not very reminiscent of George Formby.
Morrissey, though, walks through the mess with his sentimental vision intact. 'Rusholme Ruffians' is a story about 'the last night of the fair', a setting forever redolent of sex and violence in the English teenage imagination. Sure enough, a boy is stabbed, a schoolgirl falls suicidally in love with a greasy-haired speedway operator. And Morrissey is the boy who walks home alone, but his 'faith in love is still devout'.
'I Want The One I Can't Have' touches a common chord of poignant frustration; this story is of a doomed infatuation for some local homicidal juvenile. 'What She Said' is bleaker yet, about the lost and lonely girl who smokes because she's 'hoping for an early death'. The latter cut also boasts a storming guitar attack your average metal guitarist would rip off his chest wig to emulate. I shall expect a Johnny Marr pin-up pic in Kerrang! or cancel my subscription forthwith.
Over Mike Joyce's sombre, rolling drumbeat, 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' is a plaintive acoustical lament, with Morrissey once more offering himself up for adoption as patron saint of bedsit depressives, yet with a realism which defies pastiche.
Side two starts with an example of Morrissey's knack of snapping you back to attention with an arresting line. 'I'd like to drop my trousers to the world' he declares, while the boys in the band avert their gaze and get stuck in to serious rock'n'roll.
'Well I Wonder' and 'Barbarism Begins At Home' (the latter a savage swipe at the taking of savage swipes at young children) are perhaps the plainest Smiths fare on this record. Just occasionally, the group are Smiths by nature as well as name, serving up standard rock with more efficiency than inspiration. Closing 'Barbarism', Andy Rourke's funkoid bass work-out is aimless in the context of an otherwise tightly-paced LP. But it does supply some breathing-space before the stark, climactic 'Meat Is Murder'. Farmyard sounds and sinister mechanical noises bookend this chilling, funereal essay on killing and eating animals. To a death-march tempo, Morrissey compresses sadness and anger: 'Kitchen aromas aren't very homely... it's sizzling blood and the unholy stench of Murder'. Pop propaganda has rarely come so powerful.
What difference will it make? Not a sausage, so far as my diet goes I'm afraid, yet the roast beef of old England will never taste quite so good again. I'm sure that many wavering recruits to the vegetarian cause will be won over. Whatever, on that track and the record as a whole, The Smiths' artistic achievement is genuinely beyond doubt. As a unit, they've never sounded so sure, so confident, while Johnny Marr is certain to emerge from the relative neglect that's been his lot till now.
Naturally, the personality of Morrissey will remain basic to The Smiths' appeal. We afford him the sort of license that's normally only extended to children and idiots, sensing the presence of an innocence and simplicity that's been civilised out of the rest of us, and a kind of insight also. The deaf-aids, the flowers, the NHS specs, they're all the trappings of an artful vulnerability.
Turned out nice again, hasn't it? George Formby always said that."
-Paul Du Noyer, NME, 16 February 1985

Meat on the Ledge
"It would be tempting to say of The Smiths' singer and lyricist that heaven knows he's miserable now, but that would barely do justice to the depth of emotion Morrissey reveals on this dark well of a record. The Smiths' second studio album is a brooding missive from a blackness that's quite sickening to contemplate. In retrospect, the camp flamboyance of 'Charming Man' seems like the work of a joyful recluse in comparison. Even the songs here that appear more linked with the past than the present offer some kind of defiance in place of the void that follows. 'The Headmaster Ritual' is a beautifully turned piece of invective yet one wonders just why Morrissey is bothering to attack such an easy and obvious target at this stage of the game. For all its eloquence, we've heard this sentiment before; a cornerstone of rock'n'roll rebellion, now mostly sanitized into entertainment, and this time round lifted beyond the stock genre through lyrical excellence.
Its sister song, 'Barbarism Begins At Home', also stretches back, but again, while it's easy to sympathise with the feelings expressed it occurs that the eccentric who penned the words might not be so special were it not for his troubled background. It's a peculiar fact that the most interesting and charismatic people have frequently endured such hardships, though I'm sure 'normal' mortals would disagree.
Morrissey may despise the brutality of life but he's desperately fascinated by it, and in many ways it's the source of his inspiration. 'Rusholme Ruffians' is a brilliantly observed return to the monochrome atmosphere of Sixties realism, a pet subject and one delivered with the energy of disgust, tempered only by an increasingly rare expression of faith.
'This is the last night of the fair/and the grease in the hair/of a speedway operator/is all a tremulous heart requires,' he notes bitterly before walking home alone... as always. If the bright lights hold no attraction, for him at least, he does find something inside to keep going. Well he did then.
With 'I Want the One I Can't Have' and 'What She Said' the master of melancholy muses on the dazzling flux of fate and will. His earlier dilemma - does the mind rule the bodiy or the body rule the mind? - is superceded by the trick of destiny. She was drenched in philosophy, he recounts scathingly, but 'it took a tattooed boy from Birkenhead to really open her eyes.'
Beyond the cameos and memories things begin to turn a shade heavier. Catch words like alienation and ennui can't begin to describe this long and solemn sigh. We've always know that Morrissey is something of an emotional flasher and 'Nowhere Fast' is a complete confession: 'I'd like to drop my trousers to the world,' he declares. It's also close to an admission of deranged despair.
And the worst, or perhaps best, is still to come. If 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore' flirts seriously with the notion of suicide, 'Well I Wonder' is virtually a valedictory note; certainly the most moving and disturbing revelation on the whole LP. Open yourself to this song and feel your throat dry and then close to the point of choking. There's a sadness here that is truly overwhelming.
Ironically, after this, the title song seems weak, operating in a dimension that's far less affecting. An anti-meat-eating song, it begins and ends with animal noises which immediately sabotage its credibility. Sentiment replaces the imagery of protest and the genuine becomes almost risible. Such Old MacDonald foolishness was the last thing this piece needed, especially when it's one of Johnny Marr's most dirge-like compositions.
Elsewhere the guitarist has developed the thrilling mix first unleashed on the wonderful 'How Soon Is Now?', fusing psychedelia with his own style of ringing, circular chimes. It's quickly apparent that his understanding of the instrument's potential and beauty is second to none. Other references include garage punk, early acoustic rock'n'roll, folk, and even funk! An eclectic spread that's remarkably cogent and quite capable of matching the intensity of Morrissey's pained lyrics. There is, however, a constant suggestion that both music and words are very much separate entities, a product of the way The Smiths work, I suspect, but a fault frequently saved by the quality of the vocals.
Morrissey hasn't quite steered clear of his own cliches - that particular style of overtly romantic phrasing which has swooned its way through many a Smiths song - but he has broadened his approach. His falsetto flights are especially arresting: I never realised he could yodel, and sometimes the timbre of his voice is so tender he might be crying.
The Smiths may have been misguidedly elevated to the level of gods by their followers but their music is well beyond the trivial novelty we've come to know as pop. 'Meat Is Murder' is not for the squeamish, but the real torture of this record has little to do with the righteous accusations behind the banner sloganeering. That phrase is just a useful handle that really belies the very personal and far more unsettling account of a murdered soul.
Raw, bloody, and naked, the meat on the rack is Morrissey's."
- Ian Pye, Melody Maker

"Lead singer and wordsmith Stephen Morrissey (who goes by his surname professionally) is a man on a mission, a forlorn and brooding crusader with an arsenal of personal axes to grind. Drawing on British literary and cinematic tradition (he cites influences ranging from Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), Morrissey speaks out for the protection of the innocent, railing against human cruelty in all its guises. Three of the songs on Meat Is Murder deal with saving our children - from the educational system ('The Headmaster Ritual'), from brutalizing homes ('Barbarism Begins At Home'), from one another ('Rusholme Ruffians'). The title track, 'Meat Is Murder', with its simulated bovine cries and buzz-saw guitars, takes vegetarianism to new heights of hysterical carniphobia.
A man of deadly serious sensitivity, Morrissey recognizes emotional as well as physical brutality, assailing the cynicism that laughs at loneliness ('That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'). Despite feeling trapped in an unfeeling world, Morrissey can still declare, 'My faith in love is still devout', with a sincerity so deadpan as to be completely believable.
Though he waves the standard for romance and sexual liberation, Morrissey has a curiously puritanical concept of love. He's conscious of thwarted passion and inappropriate response, yet remains oddly distant from his own self-absorption. The simple pleasures of others make him uncomfortable, as if these activities were the cause of his own grand existential suffering. Morrissey's uptight romanticism wears the black mantle of a new Inquisition.
In contrast to Morrissey's censorious lyrical attitudes is the expansive musical vision of guitarist and tunesmith Johnny Marr. When these two are brought into alignment, the results transcend and transform Morrissey's concerns. The brightest example is the shimmering twelve-inch 'How Soon Is Now?' (included as a bonus on U.S. copies of Meat Is Murder). Marr's version of the Bo Diddley beat and his somber, reptilian guitars propel Morrissey's heartfelt plea - 'I am human, and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does' - into the realm of universal compassion and postcool poetry. At this point, his needs seem real, his concerns nonjudgemental, and his otherwise pious persona truly sympathetic."
- Tim Holmes, Rolling Stone

"Even though I happen to think that this group's debut disc was one of the best albums of 1984, I'm afraid that they may be asking for trouble from the critics with the title cut of their new set. 'Meat Is Murder' is an old-fashioned protest song, in this case of most humans' carnivorous behavior towards their fellow animals. This number includes actual mooing, among other tasty aural effects, and just wait till the burger-chomping critics who found these lads too 'hypersensitive' last year get hold of that!
I dunno, maybe the Smiths were just too charmed by their album's eventual cover photo - a snap of a Vietnam-era U.S. dogface with 'MEAT IS MURDER' magic-markered on his helmet - and thus felt that they had to construct first a song, and then an album, around that found concept. Speaking of concepts, title songs often beget videos these days, and if the Smiths do their 'Meat Is Murder' literally, they'll have to call up Bovine Equity and see if the old cow who graced the jacket of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother is still available for cameos. The audio-visual possibilities are udderly endless.
OK, now that my kidding's pre-deflected the most obvious critical sarcasm Meat Is Murder will suggest, let's get down to the real meat - so to speak - of this album. The best song pops up early on side one in 'Rusholme Ruffians'. (But they couldn't name the album that, because then the many U.S. K-marts would file it under 'R' rather than 'S', and how's Casey Kasem ever gonna get the news that way?) Johnny Marr lays out 'Rusholme Ruffians' as one long Richie Havens-like guitar strummer, always varied and textured enough to keep you alert and tapping. Andy Rourke's bass dips and swoops just like the carnival rides the song describes; 'from a seat on a whirling waltzer,' Morrissey spins out his bittersweet nostalgia for an adolescent visit to the last night of a county fair. This provincial lad was assaulted with intense imagery he can't blink out of his mind's eye later: 'and the grease in the hair/of a speedway operator/is all a tremulous heart requires'.
Ain't it the truth! You don't have to be gay (thought the provincial part doesn't hurt) to understand just how randomly and fatally a sexual icon can strike your naive sensibilities, and from then on you're serving at that altar. Maybe, maybe not, because even as Morrissey has us convinced how unforgettable that greased hairdo must be for him, he claims that 'the senses being dulled are mine.' In fact, 'Rusholme Ruffians', like several other songs on this album, has a really nice chicken & egg ambiguity about the origins of the gayness that colors so many of Morrissey's lyrics. Which came first back in the dread Manchester - this charming boy's discovery that he was gay, or his sense that he'd always be an outsider in any possible context the provinces could offer him? We're not sure, because probably Morrissey isn't either. All he's certain of is the moment he recognized his dualistic fate 'On the day that your mentality/catches up with your biolgoy,' as he describes it in 'I Want the One I Can't Have' - and he goes from there.
Morrissey makes several stabs at understanding his own abnormal sociology in the other songs on Meat Is Murder, especially in 'The Headmaster Ritual,' further Manchester autobiography, this time populated by sadistic educators who are both less sanguine than those recalled by the Kinks, and less fascist than those vilified by the paranoid Pink Floyd. Morrissey may have an axe to grind, but the song shines better out of its behind, out of his yodeling chorus and the instant-addiction hooks of Marr's guitar. In a similar way, 'Barbarism Begins At Home' cites current abused child theories, and then strikingly illustrates the point with the sinister sensuality of I'll-tickle-you-until-you-cry guitar from the ever-astute Marr - guitar that reprises again and again (each time you think it's over).
I'm not even going to bother making the by-now-cliched comparisons between the Smiths and the Velvet Underground or Television. If you really want to meet these guy's musical cousins, you'd do well to check out the much-neglected Soft Cell. The Smiths share more than a U.S. record label with Messrs. Almond and Ball; both feature a curiously exhilirating, deviance-inspired drone/whine about the human condition, though Soft Cell express this with urban sythesizers, while the Smiths choose real guitars and drums befitting their provincial realism. Or you can trot out the ever-toney literary references: whenever I hear Morrissey intone 'i am the son/and the heir/of a shyness that is criminally vulgar' in this set's 'How Soon Is Now,' I inevitably think of another Midlands-bred sensitive son of an overprotective mother, the amazing D.H. Lawrence.
Morrissey's not quite in that league yet, but as long as he can keep his lonely stance perfectly aligned with Johnny Marr's guitar scrapings of the month, the pop possibilities look excellent."
- Richard Riegel, Creem

"It makes a certain kind of sense to impose teen-macho aggression on your audience - for better or worse, macho teens are expected to make a thing of their unwonted hostility. These guys impose their post-adolescent sensitivity, thus inspiring the sneaking suspicion that they're less sensitive than they come on - passive-aggressive, the pathology is called, and it begs for a belt in the chops. Only the guitar hook of 'How Soon Is Now,' stuck on by their meddling U.S. label, spoils the otherwise pristine fecklessness of this prize-winning U.K. LP. Remember what the Residents say: 'Hitler was a vegetarian.'" Rating: C
- Robert Cristgau, Creem