1985:

March-April

The Smiths perform on The Oxford Road Show, February 22, 1985
Photo by Stephen Wright. Reproduced without permission.


ALBUM REVIEWS

MEAT IS MURDER - released February 1985


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
New Musical Express, February 16, 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

See the original review here


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 body 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 known 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, February 16, 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

See the original review here


Steak Your Claim

"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..." ***1/2

Bill Black
Sounds, February 16, 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

See the original review here


"What presence! The Smiths' second album opens with the effervescent yelp of 'The Headmaster Ritual' and finishes with only one ineffectual song, ironically the title track. Morrissey has always possessed a magnificently tarnished vision, a New Brass Dream, and the first three songs on this album are the best examples of it to date. The music is criminally charming, the crispest, sharpest pop, and the wit and irony are in clever-dick abundance, a precocious display ("Her skirt ascends ascends for a watching eye/It's a hideous trait on her mother's side") of charm weighted with a discerning cynicism ("And if you ever need self-validation/Just meet me in the alley by the railway station").

Both Morrissey's thoughts and his vocals remain icing on the musical cake of Johnny Marr; the newest stylistic development is the increasing seperation between the two, to paradoxical advantage. Two individuals who work smoothly together in the perfect marriage.

And that, for sure, is the only relationship of which Morrissey could ever approve. "Although I walk home alone, my faith in love is still devout", he sings in 'Rusholme Ruffians', yet precedes it with the sarcastic backlash of "Scratch my name (sic) with a fountain pen (this means you really love me)". The boy is too clever for his own good; his love is a precious faberge egg described by a ham-fisted draughtsman, and best left unrequited. His lyrics keep Zang Tumb Tumm ['conceptual' record label founded by producer Trevor Horn and music journalist Paul Morley - BB] executives awake at night and his band have produced two intelligent, witty and feeling albums that stand as well on their attitude as they do on their technique.

Chalk one more up to the Smiths; Meat is Murder is a gold nugget amidst 1985's compost heap of recycled pop."

Chad Taylor
Rip It Up

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


"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 biology,' 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

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


"From the title onwards, this much awaited LP is a remarkably uncompromising and muscular affair.

Instead of the buffoonery of Morrissey plus hearing aid on TOTP, we get a fierce moralist cracking black jokes and hurtling along on a wash of guitars.

Alongside the usual tales of love's labours lost, Morrissey fills in the local colour, pirouettes upon his ego and launches into headmasters and carnivores alike.

Johnny Marr takes to the warpath too, barely allowing the listener pause, and adding layers of 60s-inspired riffs to Morrissey's increasingly sophisticated wailing.

I love them, and promise to bypass the butcher next time I'm shopping." 5/5

Unknown reviewer
No. 1, February 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


"Despite Morrissey's self professed state of mental decay and his endless list of worries, both himself and The Smiths have managed to produce nothing short of an excellent album. Meat is Murder displays Morrissey's talent as both a great singer and songwriter. The track of the same name is lyrically the strongest composition with the inclusion of simulated animal howls to really drive his vegetarian viewpoint home. All I can say is brilliant!" (9 out of 10)

Robyn Doreian
Smash Hits, February 1985

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Morrissey Says: "Meat Is Murder!"
Moz talks about being a vegetarian in the 31 January-13 February issue of Smash Hits.
Click on magazine cover to view


Morrissey on...

'Meat Is Murder'

'Meat Is Murder' seems a bit harder.
"Yes, it does. And in a way that's intentional, because now that we have quite a big audience it's really important to me that people realise that we haven't become sloppy and we haven't become cushioned and we haven't become fat and lazy. Because we didn't want to go into the big league, as it were, and adhere to all the rules. That's pointless. It makes the entire history of The Smiths totally pointless. There has to be something that separates us. And to be quite honest, we are very angry. I mean, in very simple terms we are very, very angry. We're angry about the music industry. We're very angry about pop music. And I think it's about time that somebody said something and somebody did something that is of value. Which is always very difficult because when you try to say something with value and intelligence, you have to stand trial, you have to go before the jury, as it were, and explain yourself. People who are idiots and idiotic and bland and pointless and stupid and poppy - they can do what they like and nobody pins them against a wall and says, 'Why are you doing that?' But if you try and do something with a grain of intellect, you have to answer for it every single day of your life. Which to me is the most irksome part of the music industry."

- Melody Maker, March 16, 1985


NEWS ITEM

This news item/review was originally published in the March 6, 1985 issue of The New York Times.

NEW DISC BY SMITHS IS A HIT

"AN album of songs about self-doubt, suicidal depressions, the slaughter of animals to provide meat for our tables, and how the British educational system can stifle human potential doesn't sound much like a commercial proposition. But the album in question, ''Meat Is Murder,'' by the Smiths, was so eagerly awaited in Britain that it entered the country's pop charts at No. 1, dislodging Bruce Springsteen from first place. And the American version of the album, recently released by Sire, is already near the top of American charts covering college radio and dance-club play.

The Smiths have been the subject of cover stories in the British music press almost continually since their debut in 1983, mostly because of Morrissey, the quartet's outspoken lyricist and singer. He claims to be celibate, but writes sympathetically about homosexual attractions and heterosexual rejections. And every time Smiths fever seems to be dying, Morrissey manages to say something outrageous in an interview that puts him, and the band, back in the news.

Late last year, when a bomb that was intended for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, exploded without injuring her, Morrissey stirred up a furor by remarking, off the cuff, and not expecting to be taken seriously, that it was too bad the attempt had been unsuccessful. In one song on ''Meat Is Murder,'' he calls the teachers of his Manchester school days ''spineless swines'' with ''cemented minds.'' In another, he sings, ''I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen/Every sensible child will know what this means.'' This is no way to win friends and influence people, but it does seem to help sell records.

But the Smiths' records don't succeed on controversy alone; they are exceptionally well-crafted musically. ''Meat Is Murder,'' the band's second album (or third, if one counts ''Hatful Of Hollow,'' a collection of singles and radio performances released only in Britain), is particularly notable for the increasingly varied and confident work of Johnny Marr, who plays guitar and keyboard instruments and writes the music for Morrissey's words. His fascinating musical mind transforms influences from surprisingly traditional sources - early Elvis Presley, old blues licks, train rhythms - into sounds that are fresh and thoroughly modern. The best example on the new album is ''How Soon Is Now?'' a British hit single that was added to ''Meat Is Murder'' for the album's American release. The sighing, melodious vocal line is embedded in a mesh of tremolo guitar figures that parts occasionally to reveal the basic Bo Diddley beat that is the tune's rhythmic bedrock.

The Smiths are not easy to love. Many listeners balk at Morrissey's singing, which is not tuneless, as some reviewers have suggested, but does use narrow melodic intervals that are more characteristic of Middle Eastern music than of Western pop. And the title track on ''Meat Is Murder,'' a deliberately abrasive vegetarian rant insisting that the slaughter of animals ''is death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder,'' may be too much even for the band's most fervent followers. But the real meat of the album is the songs and the attitudes they take, which are rarely simple or straightforward, and the thoughtful originality of the music. It's heartening to see such knotty, uncompromising pop attract such a wide following, and one suspects that sooner or later, Americans will begin following the Smiths as avidly as their British fans do."

Robert Palmer

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

FURTHER READING: The Smiths


LIVE REVIEWS

WHERE'S THE BEEF?

Chippenham, Golddiggers - February 27, 1985
'Meat is Murder' tour (British leg)

"THE SMITHS are rarely bombastic, but these days they seem to be vigourously preaching the importance of ecological consciousness. 'Meat Is Murder' is probably the strongest call yet within pop of the virtues of vegetarianism, and a new song, 'Stretch Out And Wait', insisted that "Nature must still find a way". All of this, and the flurry of peace signs from the audience during 'William, It Was Really Nothing', seems to suggest that The Smiths reflect a latent desire within the populace to bring on the advent of New Hippiedom.

The group themselves may just rise above that trough, in spite of my belief that most of their best songs are 'laid-back'. 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore', 'You've Got Everything Now', the delicious 'Reel Around The Fountain', and the spine-tingling 'How Soon Is Now' sounded comfortable, though never complacent.

By contrast, other tunes like 'What She Said', the boring 'Barbarism Begins At Home', and the next single 'Shakespeare's Sister' came over as rather ordinary -plodding rather than potent - and it might be mentioned that, in spite of first night stiffness, something of the finesse evident in the arrangements of other songs got lost.

Apart from Morrissey's stage persona, for me The Smiths are not necessarily the ideal 'live' band. But for the massed admirers it's a chance to pay homage, and many more will do so during the course of this tour."

Dave Massey
Sounds

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

Note: The Chippenham gig was the first performance on the British leg of the 'Meat Is Murder' tour.

See the original review here

SEE ALSO: 'Meat Is Murder' tour ad


MEATY MARR-MIGHT SANDWICH

London Brixton Ace - March 1, 1985

The support act for this gig was James.

"JAMES ARE poised on the cusp of something that might be new, that's certainly afloat with ideas. It was too short a set to say, but they circled around some strange territory. Songs took shape out of small jags of guitar or a line seemingly snatched from the air; a second melody comes in, and suddenly they're twisting into a violent noise. Or maybe into a calm, murmuring music. One song they all sang and let their voices go higher and higher, choirboys waiting for their throats to crack.

They look comfy in pullovers and pale shirts. Although there's a trace of early Zappa in here, it's another potentially striking English variation on the voice, the guitar and the drums. I thought James tried the most interesting music of the night.

Not that The Smiths failed, or played poorly. Opening on a steely prance through 'William, It Was Really Nothing', their set yielded the characteristic clash between Morrissey's moan and Marr's magic - a pithy journey through the old rock. It sounded generally as flush and lugubriously bright as one always hears The Smiths, as one expects. And that simple measuring up to expectations is the furthest they seem able to go.

They remain the epitome of the club band sandwich, the voice distended but held in the slices of guitar and Andy Rourke's bass twang. None but Morrissey move; tunes are played to strict dynamics, tethered close to Marr's original impulse. Their songs open and close like a mouth, and there is no argument.

If Smithsongs revolved to a consistent level of inspiration this certain flatness wouldn't matter; but for every 'What Difference Does It Make?' there are a couple of faceless rock drones in their bag. It's disguised by a proficiency that hones material to its dry matter. Two new works, 'Shakespeare's Sister' and 'Stretch Out And Wait', sounded coarse and creased and will no doubt be finely ironed by the tour's end. Instead of embellishing songs, The Smiths cauterise them: the live versions of 'Still ll' and 'The Headmaster Ritual' undergo a stripping. Where the record of 'How Soon Is Now' is an echo plate, the performance is a fixed metallic mantra. Marr is still working out how to write a group music.

Morrissey already has it worked out. The windmilling scarecrow, in soft hat and Albert Tatlock cardi, has few moves to employ but an endless way of combining them. Now he is the limp victim of passion, a gangling doll; now a long streak of pessimism that the music whirls into life. The whine of the records is transformed into a resonant baritone that slides almost voluptuosly into the tenor range.

Any curiosity about Morrissey comes to rest in that voice, a very manly instrument. It's not really like anything else in pop: where George and Michael confect their styles from teenage Americana, Morrissey's is almost Edwardian, a muttonchop croon. He flirts better than anyone of them. Euchh, he says when struck by a phlegmy missle. "If anyone spits we're going home to bed."

A strange phenomenon he has created - making a crowd sway and canoodle to a song called 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. The closing 'Meat Is Murder', its ghastly effects scouring out the other music, is a punishment The Smiths practically relish. It should have stopped there, though they came back for an admittedly thunderous 'Miserable Lie'. But their quintessence was played earlier: 'Hand In Glove', the cup dashed from Morrissey's lips by his own hand.

England, I suppose, is theirs."

Richard Cook
New Musical Express, March 9, 1985

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See the original review here


"The Smiths may be the most popular band in Britain but the contradictions within this tunefully doomy quartet seem ever more bizarre. On one side there is the odd figure of Morrissey with his doleful voice and intriguing lyrics that offer an orgy of catharsis and sing-a-long confession for those plagued with inadequacies, mixed with horror and fascination with violence. And on the other side there is the backing trio straining at the leash to counter the drifting introspection with their light but impassioned playing."

Robin Denselow, The Guardian

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To access two more Brixton gig reviews, see Appendix C


ARTICLE

This article originally appeared in the March 7-13 issue of Time Out.

THIS CHARMING MAN

 
Click to enlarge

'The tabloids hound me. What makes me more dangerous to them than anybody else is the fact that I lead something of a religious lifestyle. I despise drugs and cigarettes, I'm celibate and I live a very serene lifestyle.'
SIMON GARFIELD meets the outspoken Morrissey, frontman of The Smiths and self-proclaimed pariah of the pop industry.

If there is any space at all for subversion in the pop charts, then that place is occupied by Manchester band The Smiths. If there has been any creative advancement at all in the music industry in the last year, then that progression has been forged by The Smiths. If there's been one debut album that can safely lay claim to being 'a complete signal post in the history of popular music', then it was 'The Smiths' by The Smiths. And if there's been only one band since the Sex Pistols to upset the cosseted old Biz and genuinely excite young record buyers again, then it's The...

All Morrissey's views these, and what you'd have expected from The Smith's lead singer and lyricist. What you wouldn't have expected — not two years ago anyway — is that 1985 would find so many people agreeing with him. Worse than that, they're actually worshipping him. Not hard to imagine happening to a Boy George or Simon Le Bon, but this man? A man who unashamedly calls himself a genius, who writes ceaselessly about that darkest well of despair and loneliness, who expresses a hatred for the royal family and the Band Aid project, who sings of the Moors Murders and animal slaughter; a man who admits to being a helpless James Dean and Oscar Wilde nut? Yes, we do, it seems want this stuff.

We want it enough to buy more than 100,000 copies of The Smiths' second official album 'Meat Is Murder' and put it in at Number One in its first week of release. Enough to vote The Smiths best rock 'n' roll band in the world in the music press polls. Enough to set the champagne corks flying at their fiercely independent and often fiercely disorganised Rough Trade label, a company that's finally achieved the sort of success that many swore was impossible. Enough indeed to put Morrissey in audacious and searing form on a high landing in the feverishly refurbished Britannia Hotel in his cold home town.

His media forays thus far have coupled a charming, winning eloquence with a seemingly endless list of controversial sentiments, and have consequently ensured that his interviews have sold probably more records than his lyrics. 'I'm not so shallow that I'd be happy hiding behind slogans,' he says, half uneasy at the way he's become not only the group's spokesman, but also that of yet another lost generation of British youth. It used to be Joe Strummer, Bob Geldof or Paul Weller. Morrissey isn't happy being compared to any of them...

'By rights The Smiths shouldn't be here,' he suggests. 'People want to throw a blanket over even the slightest mention of The Smiths, and the industry spends all its time denying that we're a phenomenon. I think it's because we have this grain of intellect, and when you as a band are trying to lay down the rules you're actually spoiling things for so many middle-aged mediocrities who control the whole sphere of popular music. Let me tell you, the music industry absolutely detest The Smiths.'

Industry darling or not, Morrissey has just reached that thin rung on the success ladder that he'd always dreamed he'd attain, but always hoped he'd never have to deal with. For a lot of people success comes easy: you hire a 24-hour gorilla, you buy that ranch, you stick a rolled fiver to your nose, and you put out one album a year in a vile cover. But Morrissey and his fans know that The Smiths could never move comfortably within the realms of affluence, and he hopes he's recently taken one step further away from it by moving from Kensington to a new house in Cheshire to maintain closer touch with the forces that shaped him.

For the man exudes one thing above all else — integrity. 'I will die for what I say,' he boasts, and it's totally convincing.

The Smiths have enjoyed a rise both phenomenal and strange. Formed by the (then) teenaged guitarist and co-songwriter Johnny Marr, the band first lined up as a guitar-based four-piece in September '82 and stirred interest almost immediately.

They stood out about ten miles. For one thing it was the time of the Human League and the synthesizer, and guitar bands were out (in the same way that four-groups were out when The Beatles auditioned at Decca). Further, it was a time of softnesss, of saving face, of dumb-dumb baby-baby lyrics that stood almost a generation apart from the brutal and realistic sentiments expressed by Morrissey. The Smiths had love songs too, but they were anguished and clever and believable. In fact they were often anguished to the point of absurdity, and frequently appeared ludicrously contrived.

John Peel and his producer John Walters enthused, several majors expressed interest, but the band characteristically signed to Rough Trade for a relatively small advance, and their first single appeared just under two years ago. 'Hand In Glove' was a great song, but it did bugger all. In not working it as hard as they might have done, Rough Trade had seemingly let The Smiths down. Morrissey was aware that both Aztec Camera and Scritti Politti had deserted Rough Trade for majors, and he began to understand why. 'But they had to do something with us — we were really their last vestige of hope. I'm convinced that if The Smiths hadn't occurred, then Rough Trade would have just disappeared.'

The realisation seemingly hit both parties at once. Rough Trade pushed harder, Morrissey talked his effeminate white beads off, and their fortunes took off together. The subsequent singles charted high, and the often extremely petty, but always intriguing, controversies surrounding the band doubled, trebled, quadrupled in number and stature.

Did Morrissey really have a flower fetish? Just why did he throw £50 of gladioli into the audience every night? Why did he insist on prancing around on 'Top Of The Pops' with a hearing aid and a bush down the back of his jeans? Was he really celibate? And was he really gay, as Rolling Stone hinted? Did he really wear women's shirts from the Evans outsize shop? Was their first single truly to be recorded by Sandie Shaw? Where did the names Morrissey and Johnny Marr come from anyway? Was it just coincidence that they were respectively a murder victim and the hero of Cornell Woolrich's novel 'Rendezvous In Black'? Was Morrissey honestly the desperately lonely teenager who never left his damp Whalley Range room, a room covered from floor to ceiling in James Dean pictures? Did long-time Morrissey hero Terence Stamp really object to being used on one of the band's single sleeves? And did WH Smith really ban the band's eponymous debut album because it contained a song called 'Suffer Little Children', about the Moors Murders, even though Morrissey claimed he got on swimmingly with the parents of the victims?

Some of it was garbage, but yes, most of it was true. The first album went gold (over 100,000 copies sold) and the mini-scandals surely must have played some part in its success. 'No more scandals!' said Morrissey when the worst of them were over. But the tabloids didn't believe him.

'They hound me,' he says, 'and it gets very sticky. What makes me more dangerous to them than anybody else is the fact that I lead somewhat of a religious lifestyle. I'm not a rock 'n' roll character. I despise drugs, I despise cigarettes, I'm celibate and I live a very serene lifestyle. But I'm also making very strong statements lyrically, and this is very worrying to authoritarian figures. They can't say that I'm in a druggy haze or soaking in alcohol and that I'll get out of it. They probably think I'm some sort of sex-craved monster. But that's okay — they can think what they like. I'm only interested in evidence, and they can't produce any evidence to spoil my character.'

Dangerous? This 25-year-old man in black blazer, lime-green cotton shirt, heavily creased beige pegs, brown shoes and a James Dean quiff — a sex-craved monster and corruptor of youth?

In truth, there is something very unsettling about being in his presence — he's almost too soft, too gentle, too nervous, and he's not a million miles from that pathetic archetypal Monty Python accountant. He bows when he shakes your hand, and that's something you don't expect from a rocker with a Number One album.

'The main reason I'm dangerous is because I'm not afraid to say how I feel. I'm not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I'll say it as loud as anyone wants me to.

'In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn't done shyly — it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.'

But it's another of Morrissey's handlebar flyers — the hyperbole and cries of 'conspiracy!' are hard to resist if he knows that they'll at least double the impact of what he is actually bold enough to say. Which is either a whole pile, or not much at all, depending on the richness of your idealism and the length of your memory. Pick the albums and singles to pieces and you find songs that are stirring, occasionally funny, often moving, but, like the man who sings them, far from dangerous or alarming. Indeed they are more an incitement for lethargy than rebellion.

Sentiments are often obscure, abstract and even cowardly in what they don't say. Is a Morrissey line that runs 'Let me get my hands on your mammary glands' really any more risqué than a Tony Blackburn radio jingle that has him 'whipping out his 12-incher'? Well no, it's a mixture of the innocent, the embarrassing and the comic. It's a nice rhyme too.

Or often it's just a case of the old Dylans — keep 'hot' songs vague and you're bound to get more people believing that you're gunning for them. But Morrissey's most threatening weapon is sub-textual — his dour, parochial obsession with Manchester. His languorous depictions of Rusholme, Whalley Range and the Manchester that in his rhyme always seems to have 'so-much-to-answer-fer', are frank impressions of Northern industrial squalor and decay that show slightly more of the world than the perfumed works of the Wham!s, Durans, Madonnas and Princes.

And as for Johnny Marr's music, well that's nothing earth-shatteringly original either ... and perhaps that's part of its appeal. For someone in his very early twenties, Marr certainly displays an enormous and well-executed guitar range; ethereal, semi-classical acoustics, fine-picked chiming and spiky electrics, and taut, chopping block-chords often working quite apart from the vocals. But at its best it's good old countrified garage stuff delivered with a wink to the same old guitar greats. The new album track 'Rusholme Ruffians', say, sounds a great whack like the 1961 Elvis Presley recording of the Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman composition '(Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame'. But it sounds pretty terrific all the same.

Strange, then, that both Morrissey and Marr often seem like desperate men hugging an invaluable patent, hanging on to that magic ingredient that very occasionally makes rock music so special. 'It's just that you have to hold on to what you want to stay very tight,' Morrissey explains, 'because there are so many people in this industry trying to trip you up and push you over and catch you out and unveil you.

'The industry is just rife with jealousy and hatred. Everybody in it is a failed bassist. Everybody wants to be on stage — it doesn't matter what they do, they all want to be you. But the mere fact that you have that and nobody can take it away from you, is your ultimate weapon. It's just really awash with jealousy and sourness and bitterness.'

Revenge for not being asked to participate, maybe? Getting his own back, in true flamboyant and petty rockstar style, for what others have previously said about him? Morrissey says that several of the people involved have publicly admitted absolute hatred towards him. Including Geldof, of course. 'He said it on the radio the other day, and it was totally unprovoked. It was as if he was really quite anxious and desperate to put me down. The fact that Bob Geldof — this apostle, this religious figure who's saving all these people all over the globe — the fact that he can make those statements about me yet he seems quite protected, seems totally unfair. But I'm not bothered about those things...'

Just as the new album shows Morrissey not to be at all bothered by child beating, animal slaughter or the royal family. But the man is away now, in unstoppable flow. Pick a topic and watch Morrissey curl a dry tongue around it...

I ask Morrissey about one of the verses on the album that apparently runs: 'I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen ... /The poor and the needy are selfish and greedy on her terms.'

'Actually I despise royalty. I always have done. It's fairy story nonsense' — and all this in the decadence of the Britannia Hotel — 'the very idea of their existence in these days when people are dying daily because they don't have enough money to operate one's radiator in the house, to me is immoral. As far as I can see, money spent on royalty is money burnt. I've never met anyone who supports royalty, and believe me I've searched. Okay, so there's some deaf and elderly pensioner in Hartlepool who has pictures of Prince Edward pinned on the toilet seat, but I know streams of people who can't wait to get rid of them.

'It's a false devotion anyway. I think it's fascist and very, very cruel. To me there's something dramatically ugly about a person who can wear a dress for £6,000 when at the same time there are people who can't afford to eat. When she puts on that dress for £6,000 the statement she is making to the nation is: "I am the fantastically gifted royalty, and you are the snivelling peasants." The very idea that people would be interested in the facts about this dress is massively insulting to the human race.'

In short, Morrissey belongs to that old protest school with guts — the one where the singer names names. There are a few like him — Billy Bragg and The Redskins come to mind — but the Band Aid project, he feels, was certainly not one of them. 'The whole implication was to save these people in Ethiopia, but who were they asking to save them? Some 13-year-old girl in Wigan! People like Thatcher and the royals could solve the Ethiopian problem within ten seconds. But Band Aid shied away from saying that — for heaven's sake, it was almost directly aimed at unemployed people.'

And, as a result of naming names, Morrissey feels he's unearthed a deep prejudice against The Smiths, an industry plot against independence. He claims his records have been ignored 'by every single media channel in existence'. Actually, he's quite wrong; every single media channel in existence has grabbed eagerly at the band's music, if only as a way of getting to their audacious leader. In fact he's currently turning down interview requests by the bucketload.

Morrissey, by contrast, is currently awash with magnanimity, sweetness and forgiveness. An hour gone, and he's still in full glorious swing. He's hoping the near future will hold a book of his own journalism — he's already interviewed Pat Phoenix and has designs on pools scooper Viv 'Spend Spend Spend' Nicholson (the cover star of an early Smiths single). 'I've got lots of questions,' he says, 'and lots of people I want to probe, especially in the dark.'

Morrissey knows The Smiths will be here for a long time yet. 'We're not just fashionable — in fact I don't know what fashion is. It's quite simple: before we came there was no outlet for emotion — people couldn't tear their coat and jump on somebody's head.'

And if The Smiths do bust up tomorrow, modest old Morrissey already reckons he's done enough for the history books. 'I don't mind how I'm remembered so long as they're precious recollections. I don't want to be remembered for being a silly, prancing, nonsensical village idiot. But I really do want to be remembered. I want some grain of immortality. I think it's been deserved. It's been earned.'

Really? In two years?

'Oh yes! Oh yes! In two days! In two days!'

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


 SINGLE REVIEWS

SHAKESPEARE'S SISTER - released March 1985

"Did I hear a yawn? Yeah, well I know what you mean. We're all sick of Morrissey's tortured torso gleaming at us from every news-stand and of Johnny Marr's metamorphosis into Keith Richards, but behind all the posturing, the musical spell remains unbroken. 'Shakespeare's Sister' is a brief, brusque Diddleybuzz, a determined disturbing of the air after the balmy psychedelic that was the beauteous 'How Soon Is Now'. It's just 129 seconds of our finest band (still) in a cruising gear, another sliver of greatness. All this and Pat Phoenix on the sleeve. The yawners want blood."

Danny Kelly
New Musical Express, March 19, 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


"I carefully removed the Pat Phoenix cover, placed the shiny platter onto the turntable, and then walked to my chair. By the time I'd reached it, 129 seconds later, the record had finished.

'Shakespeare's Sister' finds our lads in boisterous mood with young Marr jangling on the guitar as if his life depended on it.

'Shakespeare's Sister' was a Virginia Woolf essay on what would have happened if the great Bard had been a Bardess, blah blah, different way of looking at women, etc, etc.

Her essay lasted longer than 129 seconds, though."

Unknown reviewer
No. 1, March 1985

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.


"Of late, I've found less and less to interest me about the whining anorexic who fronts this band. It's different now. Marr's guitar here works double time, everyone thrashes about and even Morrissey's usually vapid wail clutches its A-Z purposefully. The man, though, still remains languid, despite the breathless pace. What poise! Now, if his mum could just get him to keep his vest on ..."

Unknown reviewer

The original source of this review is unknown.

Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.

SEE ALSO: The Smiths' Bard News + two others


The most bizarre interview with Morrissey (Shakespeare or Bacon?) appeared in the
May 1985 issue of Zig Zag.
Click on magazine cover to view

1985: May-Aug

 





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