Album Review: Morrissey – Low in High School

By on Monday, 18th December 2017 at 12:00 pm

Morrissey Low in High School album coverSteven Patrick Morrissey is a lightning rod when it comes to bad publicity. In the vein of those groan-worthy Maybelline adverts, maybe he’s born with it? I think the answer to that would be a resounding yes. Morrissey wouldn’t be Morrissey if he wasn’t courting controversy, whether it be regarding his pretty militant attitude towards veganism and those who don’t agree with him, his searing attacks on politicians after the Manchester attack or his most recent divisive comments on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, defending disgraced actor Kevin Spacey. The more cynical detractors of Moz say he does this on purpose, to bump up the attention paid to his current artistic pursuits.

This TGTF post is not about giving credence to or debunking that myth. If anything, this review of Morrissey’s latest album, his eleventh studio album ‘Low in High School’, proves he follows the beat of a different drummer. The drummer just happens to be the beats that are inside his own head. As we’ve seen countless times in popular music, a good dose of self-editing would have made for a much more cohesive album, if only thematically. But, as we’ve already established, no-one tells the Mozfather what to do. So what do we have her in the follow-up to 2014’s ‘World Peace is None of Your Business’? The album’s first impression in ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ heralded the uncomfortable, repeated and prominent appearance of the synthesiser, seemingly at odds with the almost 60-year old Morrissey. ‘I Wish You Lonely’ is another awkward, synth-led listen. If you examine the liner notes, things make more sense. Live keyboardist Gustavo Manzur shares songwriting credits on a third of the songs here.

The notoriously cantankerous Mancunian star shows again he isn’t shy in diving into the current political fracas. The LP begins with ‘My Love, I’d Do Anything for You’. With any other garden variety pop star, this would be a trite love song, but not with Morrissey. It’s a minor key rocker, beginning with the words “teach your kids to recognize and to despise all the propaganda”. As if an extension of his Smiths’ odes to the futility of work, he moans, “weren’t we all born to mourn and to yawn at the occupations / that control every day of our lives / we can’t live as we wish”. With a bombastic guitar line and a horn flourish, this isn’t any old pop song.

There is a storm of debate around ‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage’, Morrissey vehemently denying it’s about Brexit. Regardless of what it’s about, there’s no denying it’s quite catchy and you’ll want to sing along. ‘The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ sympathises with those in the midst of the conflicts in the Middle East, concluding, “it’s just because the land weeps oil,” with another infectious tune with a Latin beat. In grave contrast, at over 7 minutes, ‘I Bury the Living’ is an overindulgent examination inside the mind of a suicide bomber. As one might imagine, a song with the words “give me an order / I’ll blow up your daughter” isn’t exactly a comfortable listen. Album closer ‘Israel’, a lighter piano number, appears to be sung directly to the Israelis and well, the word ‘polarising’ only begins to describe where this might go.

To the pleasure and possibly relief of his longtime fans, there is one light in the darkness. On ‘Home is a Question Mark’, Morrissey can’t help himself but to indulge in his favourite mode: being the lovelorn Pope of Mope. Revisiting the theme of trying to find love in cities instead of people in the eloquent ‘Throwing My Arms Around Paris’, like its predecessor, it’s a revelation, a sweeping ballad that only Morrissey can write and sing to. It’s just too bad there isn’t more on the LP like this. Something quite astonishing throughout, no matter what subject matter he’s broaching, is his voice. Despite major medical treatment and age, his vocal tone is beautiful and his delivery is sheer perfection.

Over the last few years, Morrissey has undergone treatment for cancer and been forced to cancel or cut short numerous concerts. In the context of cancer, his seemingly cavalier attitude to dying I suppose in hindsight in unsurprising, given his career-long referencing to death. Facing his own mortality may have fueled the desire to experiment, to do something different and off the wall, no matter who it offends, and that’s what ‘Low in High School’ is. Awkwardly paced and unapologetic in content, Morrissey as elder statesman of indie rock is making exactly the kind of music he wants to make. And that’s all that matters to him.


‘Low in High School’, Morrissey’s eleventh studio album, is out now on BMG. TGTF’s previous coverage on the Smiths frontman’s solo work is through here.

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