In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about the songs we hate by bands we love.
I’m 75 percent vegetarian by circumstance: My wife has been meat-free for the bulk of our relationship, and since she’s the one who handles 99.9 percent of the food preparation in our house, my diet is increasingly plant-based. With only a tenuous claim to the cause—and a stomach full of the hamburgers, sausages, and fowl that I eat when dining outside of the home—I still feel the pangs of nausea from every note, beat, and See ’N Say sound effect of The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder.” The final track of its otherwise unimpeachable namesake LP, the song is a stone-faced dirge even by the frequently stone-faced, occasionally dirge-like standards of former Smiths frontman Morrissey. “Meat Is Murder,” then, is triply heinous: It’s 1) a bad song that 2-3) reinforces negative stereotypes about vegetarianism and The Smiths.
When Meat Is Murder was released stateside in 1985, the Smiths-iest of Smiths singles, “How Soon Is Now?”, was included as its centerpiece. Yet even that song’s (brilliant) sad-bastard rallying cry—“I am human and I need to be loved / just like everybody else does”—sounds like an understatement in comparison to “Meat Is Murder”’s sanctimonious refrain: “It’s death for no reason / and death for no reason is murder.” Ethics, the legal definition of murder, and Morrissey’s extra-curricular foot-in-mouth disease aside, “Meat Is Murder” is just a flaccid piece of songwriting, a startling miss from a melodically gifted act whose lyrics can be found wherever undergrads are currently peacocking their taste in music. (No, you raided the Morrissey-Marr songbook for LiveJournal post titles in the summer of 2005.) If its opening passages were abbreviated to a brief experiment in musique concrète, it might be tolerable. As a full track, however, it’s the PETA sidewalk petitioner of the Smiths discography, to be blown by swiftly and with minimal eye contact. If this is the way “Meat Is Murder” has to go about spreading its message, you don’t have a minute for animal rights today—let alone six minutes and 13 seconds of Morrissey splashing red paint on passersby.
Sequenced after “Barbarism Begins At Home,” which would have been the better album closer, Meat Is Murder’s title track ends the record on a dissatisfied sigh. It’s Morrissey pushing his convictions while Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce, and Andy Rourke join him in slack solidarity, plodding along while Marr tinkers with pitch-shifting that would be used to stronger effect on “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” When Meat Is Murder was restored to an eight-track running order for its 2011 re-issue, “How Soon Is Now?” got the heave-ho. It would’ve been better if the title track went missing, though. That’s something we should all be able to agree on, regardless of diet.