Morrissey changed popular music forever when he arrived as the lead singer of the best British band of all time, The Smiths, in the early 1980’s.
Everything he did was startling. From the homoerotic art of their debut single “Hand in Glove”, the introduction of words like charming and handsome into the pop music lexicon, converting thousands of people to vegetarianism, the proclamations of celibacy, the roll call of forgotten iconic British stars on the sleeves, his wit and erudition, gladioli in his back pocket to the androgyny of his wardrobe he was a force of nature.
As a solo artist he has produced four genuinely flawless albums; the delicate Viva Hate, the boot boy, glam rock stomp of Your Arsenal, the majesty of Vauxhall and I and then the pop brilliance of You Are The Quarry. In between those there have been good, quirky, flawed and patchy albums; Years of Refusal and World Peace is None of Your Business are good, Kill Uncle is quirky, Southpaw Grammar is flawed and Ringleader of the Tormentors is patchy as is Maladjusted. Alongside those albums have been some of the greatest singles ever to grace the charts.
Now comes his 11th studio album; Low In High School. Will it be a return to form? Will it show the best aspects of Morrissey the artist? Will it introduce a new generation of fans to a truly unique performer? Will it be good? I wanted the answer to all of those questions to be yes. It wasn’t.
It starts with the thundering roar of “My Love I’d Do Anything For You” where Morrissey reminds us that “…society is hell” and warns about fake news. Drums pound, guitars rage like chainsaws and there is brass flung on top. Lyrically it’s not exactly “Late Night Maudlin Street” but it sounds like the sort of glitter stomp that kicked off “Your Arsenal” back in 1992. It’s a great start. When Morrissey sounds like this and his band keep things tight he still sounds important and relevant.
“I wish you Lonely” is nowhere near as interesting as the opening track. A synth heavy arrangement accompanies lyrics that contain sneering remarks about soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in defence of their countries, their principles and their families; “…tombs are full of fools who gave their life upon command” is how Morrissey dismisses those lives. This sort of half-thought, nasty and condescending side of Morrissey reveals a truth of fame which is that when it is left unchecked and the recipients of its rewards are surrounded by sycophants it becomes corrosive to their souls.
“Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage” is, sadly, one of a mere handful of Mozzer songs that can be filed under “B” for boring. Despite the title sounding like the winning entry in a name a Morrissey song competition it rarely gets close to anything resembling his best. That it is one of the better tracks on this album is telling.
“Home is a Question Mark” has M in fine voice. He sounds as good as he has ever sounded. Again it’s let down by musical accompaniment that is, and I’m being kind, dull. It’s instantly forgettable.
I hated “Spent the Day in Bed” when I first heard it. Now it is a song I find myself listening to regularly. Again it features a warning about the ills of the media. Again his voice is strong. Again it doesn’t have anything memorable from the gaggle of musicians he has surrounded himself with of late. One wonders what the brilliant Alain Whyte could have provided here. Whyte was a master of melody for many years and his absence since “Ringleader of the Tormentors” has been noticeable. Musical director Boz Boorer seems to have abandoned the idea of providing hooks and lead guitarist Jesse Tobias hasn’t shown any ability to do so.
“I Bury the Living” is brilliant. A classic. I’m talking about the 1958 horror film and not this horror of a song where, again, Mozzer has decided that all the world’s ills lie at the feet of soldiers; “…give me an order and I’ll blow up your daughter”. It’s a narrow and ugly view of complex issues. It paints Morrissey in a very ugly light. Again.
“In Your Lap” is, and I’m sorry to be so blunt, rubbish. A piano plays in what the pianist believes to be a very grand manner in the background as M drones on about the Arab spring. I know that sounds like a joke…its not. I’m not sure that a man who spends his days gallavanting around European cities, staying in 5 star hotels and having tea with Nancy Sinatra really understands the complexities of Middle Eastern politics and I’m not sure anyone cares about his reading of the situation.
“The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel” made me weep. It’s by far the worst thing this once charming man has ever done. By this point in the album I was struggling to find a reason to keep listening…and living.
“All the Young People Must Fall in Love” has some nice ideas both lyrically and musically. Sadly all of those nice moments appear to have been flung into some sort of music making app and then hurled against the walls of a recording studio, what was left has been picked up off the floor and popped onto the album as this. I know none of that makes any sense but neither does this.
“When You Open Your Legs” has us back in Tel Aviv! It sounds like a b-side from a Smiths covers band who have landed a record deal…or Gene as you may know them! Ba-boom-tish! That’s what this album is doing to me. I’m reduced to Gene jokes.
With the b-side “Ganglord” Morrissey made his feelings on police brutality known. For some reason he’s taken that song and recorded it with a less interesting set of lyrics and a truly dire backing track. He’s called this awful thing “Who Will Save Us From The Police” but I want to know who is going to save us from the prospect of another Morrissey album if this is where we are at.
You know what I’ve always wanted? A Morrissey song where he sings about how much he loves Israel. That would be good right? Like a Morrissey version of a Rough Guide. Sadly, it’s not good. “Israel” is, instead, six minutes of overly dramatic musical and lyrical posturing about a nation that he really doesn’t know or understand.
That is “Low In High School”. Three songs about Israel. Two songs about the fake news. Two songs battering soldiers. One quite good song. Some other not so good songs. I haven’t enjoyed writing this terribly negative review. It’s not my style to take shots at people I adore and who posses more talent in their cuticles than I have in my whole being but it’s because i adore Morrissey so much that I couldn’t not write this.
Low In High School? I was and you were there for me Mozzer. You’re there for me still…but not on this record. On this record you are a stranger to me.