Tuesday, May 15, 2007

To Whom It May Interest #8:
Struggling to Understand The Smiths – Part 2: Meat Is Murder

To Whom It May Interest,

”We don’t need no…education…We don’t need no…thought control…”

It’s all I can think while listening to “The Headmaster Ritual,” Morrissey sorrowfully calling out the educators of Manchester as “belligerent ghouls” that “thwacks you on the knees/knees you in the groin.” Is it feasible that corporal punishment be brought back into the American school system? I know from listening to Morrissey that the Manchester headmaster seems to produce a surplus of miserable lads, but at least they’re educated. Here the kids are miserable AND stupid. So what if the kids are a little sore so long as they know something? Just a thought. Probably not what Morrissey was trying to get across but I guess I’m just being difficult.

To Morrissey’s credit, I like the line about the administrators that are “jealous of youth/same old jokes since 1902.” The guy’s got a sense of humor hiding under that dramatically blue tone.

Anyway, to listen to Meat Is Murder is to understand why guitarist Johnny Marr is so highly regarded by the indie crowd. A lot of these riffs have been recycled by a shitload of bands since this album came into being and I’m sure I’m going to hear more of that with every Smiths album I listen to. It seems fitting that Marr’s playing with Modest Mouse these days, seeing as he’s probably inadvertently written a sizable block of their best material. Pitchfork would not exist in this dojo, would it?

“Rusholme Ruffians” is the most upbeat song I’ve ever heard that involved people getting stabbed and robbed. More upbeat even than most rap songs these days, though the song is more of a tongue-in-cheek look at town-folk during those big community events. Catchy as hell. I hate that I like it.

Interestingly, this record isn’t really the depressing mess you’d expect unless you read the lyrics. “I Want The One I Can’t Have,” (obligatory pre-pubescent growing pains type stuff), and “What She Said,” (obligatory “Eleanor Rigby” meets Souxsie Soux type stuff), both carry a high tempo and rather catchy riffs. Up until this point, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” is the obvious downer with it’s emotionally charged repetition: ”I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives/and now it’s happening in mine.” To keep from being a little overwrought, the song fades in and out like “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

“How Soon Is Now?” is actually one track that I’ve always SECRETLY liked. The substantial guitar whine that gives the song its distinction is certainly a draw, but I even like the vocal approach here. I can definitely listen to this track more than once, even with lyrics like ”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.” This might be my favorite track on the album. Actually, it probably is.

“Nowhere Fast” sounds like a Gun Club track. I wonder if Jeffrey Lee Pierce ever borrowed anything from The Smiths. Or, vice versa. It’s poetic in its disgust with self, small town sheltering and complacency. Another great line: ”Each household appliance/Is like a new science in my town.” I can actually relate to that.

“Well I Wonder”’s rainy climax is a little dramatic, don’t you think? I understand that The Smiths pay a lot of attention to theatrics but…I think Morrissey’s perpetually bummed disposition communicates that enough by itself. At moments like this, I feel a little justified in my original opinion of The Smiths and their “whoa is me” ways. But, not completely.

Why do the songs that involve violence sound so upbeat? “Barbarism Begins At Home” is a straight up disco track about child abuse. Or, maybe excessively employed disciplinary principles. Either way, kids get hit, but you can dance to it. Maybe that’s meant to be ironic. I found it perplexing.

The most dramatic song on the album is the title track. The use of echoing cows as a precursor to this song’s obvious stance against carnivorous consumption reminds me of the distant helicopter static and gunfire that opens up Metallica’s “One.” It has this “run for your life, oh sacred and endangered cows” vibe to it that actually makes the song a little corny. The song’s not bad lyrically or musically; it unfortunately fucks up its message by being, once again, a little too dramatic. It’s a sullen closer, but it gets the job done.

I hate to say it, but Meat Is Murder is a good album. And, something I REALLY hate to admit, Morrissey actually does have an interesting point-of-view and a solid knack for poetic sarcasm and humor. But, as far as my ears can tell thus far, The Smith sound really belongs to Johnny Marr. I would attribute the band’s iconic and seminal reputation mostly to him. But, I have a couple more albums to listen to, so that conclusion may change. I guess we’ll see.

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