Secret Meeting score: 75
by Philip Moss
Morrissey releasing an album is always an event. But even as a self-confessed Moz obsessive, it always carries a sense of apprehension.
After signing a new record deal with BMG following a publicly messy split from Harvest in 2014, the feeling seemed to be that all was well in Camp Steven. Producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The Raconteurs, The Strokes), was back on board with the bulk of the recording sessions taking place at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome. He used social media shrewdly, leaking the quite outstanding album cover through long-term friend, Linda Sterling’s Instagram account.
BMG head honcho, Korda Marshall, declared him a ‘dream signing’ for the label and that the new record, Low In High School, would be a ‘landmark’. But lead single, Spent the Day in Bed, got its first airing on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 show only stoked the building apprehension. Over a Willy Wonka-esque organ, Moz delivers, quite frankly, a clumsy lyrical affair that laments the media and mass news corporations – ‘I recommend you stop watching the news because the news contrives to frighten you.’ Quite a shift from the Morrissey of old, who could summarise the minutest of human emotions in the most eloquently poetic and beautiful ways imaginable.
Then, only eight weeks to wait until album release day…
Opening with howls that resemble a wild animal, which has been kept locked up too long (it is in fact guitarist, Jesse Tobias, deep in the basement echo chamber of Forum Studios), My Love, I’d Do Anything For You rips into an enormous, glam rock stomp – harking back to Your Arsenal opener, You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side – with Moz, again aiming for target number one, the media – ‘Teach your kids to recognise and despise all the propaganda, filtered down by the dead echelons mainstream media.’
Continuing the Bolan-esque groove of the opener, Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on The Stage, is classic Morrissey as he tells the story of a failed, we assume fictitious, actress over a wave of shimmering synths. And despite many critics claiming Jacky to be a metaphor for the Union Jack and a pro-Brexit protagonist (the song’s outro refrains – ‘Exit. Exit – everybody’s running for the exit!’), Morrissey has stated this to be “absolute nonsense!”
When You Open Your Legs provides the biggest sing-a-long moment of the record, tackling the record’s other major theme – Morrissey’s love and lust life. A topic also touched upon in the piano ballad, In Your Lap, where his ever private mind drifts momentarily from the warlords, security forces and dictators, instead stating – ‘I just want my face in your lap’.
So, was the apprehension valid? No, not really – it’s Morrissey’s best record since 2006’s darkly majestic, Ringleader of the Tormentors, and easily a contender for fifth place from his solo offerings. Of course, as expected, it’s not without its faults. But it’s good to have you back, Steven.