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Monday 11 December 2017

Smiths pack a meaty punch 30 years on

The Smiths
The Smiths

Oh yes, the time is absolutely flying by when you realise that this coming Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the release of The Smith's second studio album, Meat is Murder. Good God.

From the release of their debut single Hand in Glove in the late spring of 1983, The Smiths had been one of the most important groups ever to have emerged from the UK. Musically exhilarating and unique lyrically, the combination of Johnny Marr's chiming guitars and Morrissey's inventive wordplay made for a package which inspired unswerving devotion from fans.

The Smiths really mattered at a time when pop music was still in thrall to the glitz of the New Romantic era but increasingly aware that the world was a in a very perilous state. The threat of a potential nuclear conflict between the US and the Soviet Union led to the protest camps at Greenham Common airbase being established, Margaret Thatcher was intent on dismantling the very essence of the British working class, the miners' strike was in full flow and unemployment was on an ever-increasing spiral.

Into these troubled times strode The Smiths, with Morrissey's magnificent interviews making him a permanent fixture on the front pages of the music press.

The band's debut album was excellent, if a little undercooked, while Hatful of Hollow, a stopgap collection of BBC radio sessions with a handful of new tracks, still reached No 7, but Meat is Murder was where they really hit their stride in the studio.

Co-produced by Marr and young engineer Stephen Street, the sound was crisper and more focused while Morrissey's lyrical preoccupations stretched to encompass corporal punishment (The Headmaster Ritual), domestic violence (Barbarism Begins at Home) and, on the title track, the subject of animal rights.

Closing the album with a drone as Stephen Street attempted to 'recreate the sound of an abattoir' by slowing down a recording of cows mooing in a field from a BBC sound effects album, Meat is Murder has proved a divisive song over the years, not least at Morrissey's recent 3Arena show where it was accompanied by graphic footage of animal cruelty courtesy of a PETA propaganda film.

Still, you know a band truly means something to people when at least two of my friends converted to vegetarianism, and remain so, as a direct result of that song.

>>>George Byrne

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