Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of probably the Best Smiths Album. Most people will say it’s The Queen is Dead (which will celebrate 30 years in 2016) but I don’t think it is, despite all the pressure to love that one best.
My first Smiths “album” was actually Singles. So, not an album. A compilation. Still, it was a good introduction for someone like me, who responds to pop sounds first and deep, meaningful lyrics much much later. I found The Queen is Dead on cassette many months later and my summer of 2009 had its perfect soundtrack (I would go on to own a ton of cassettes, many of which made for great memories). I first listened to Meat is Murder, though, later that fall. I remember getting chills when the title track wound around and Morrissey crooned about how eating meat is the same as literally killing animals. I was moved, and a little shocked. It was not a popular slogan in the 80s (in fact, it still turns plenty of people off now). A different Smiths “album” became my autumn soundtrack though, which was Louder Than Bombs (which is a fantastic compilation btw). It wasn’t until Winter 2010 that Meat is Murder cemented its place as GOAT (greatest of all time). See, I was in love with a boy (duh) who loved The Smiths (BONUS). Every Tuesday I would go donate plasma to get $20, so I could go to The Triple Rock for 2-4-1’s with my crush. As I was donating, I’d listen to this album. In the daytime, on my way to class, I’d listen to it. The second track, “Rusholme Ruffians” is so filled with glee and nostalgia, it reminds me of that time when life was simple, and care-free. When I’d sell plasma for 20 measly bucks and that was good enough and I was happy.
The thing about MIM is that it’s *all* great. QID is *mostly* great. “Frankly Mr. Shankly” and “Vicar in a Tutu” may be good, preposterous songs, but does the former work leading into one of the great Smiths ballads, “I Know it’s Over”? And similarly, does the latter really work as a lead out, especially after the GOAT Smiths song “There is a Light that Never Goes Out”? I wanna go with “no.”
MIM seems to speak to a more reckless, youthful sadness. It’s music for misfits and outcasts, and people with problems that are true life.
There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry
And you want to die
Yes. It’s not “You dumped me and broke my heart.” It’s “I’m so lonely and so awkward I want to kill myself.” That is a truer feeling than being broken-hearted, though there is plenty of that:
Gasping but somehow still alive
This is the fierce last stand of all I am
Gasping, dying but somehow still alive
This is the final stand of all I am
Please keep me in mind.
The crowning achievement of this album might be “How Soon is Now,” a sprawling, atmospheric, lush anthem of isolation. I was never sold on this song until I heard Johnny Marr play it in 2013 and sound was covering my whole body and all the air around me was close and hot. It’s such a different experience from anything else on MIM, and the craftsmanship was totally singular and unique:
“The vibrato sound is fucking incredible, and it took a long time. I put down the rhythm track on an Epiphone Casino through a Fender Twin Reverb without vibrato. Then we played the track back through four old Twins, one on each side. We had to keep all the amps vibrating in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting the track, recording it in 10-second bursts … I wish I could remember exactly how we did the slide part – not writing it down is one of the banes of my life! We did it in three passes through a harmoniser, set to some weird interval, like a sixth. There was a different harmonisation for each pass. For the line in harmonics, I retuned the guitar so that I could play it all at the 12th fret with natural harmonics. It’s doubled several times.” — Johnny Marr (Source)
There’s very few full albums that feel autobiographical for me. MIM is very much a memory of a time and place I was really, physically in. I feel it more lucidly than many other times in my life. Happy B-day Meat is Murder.
(obviously, it didn’t work out with that guy)