Album Review: Morrissey - Low in High School | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Album Review: Morrissey – Low in High School

Morrissey's 13th album is bogged down by cringeworthy lyricism and attempts at political controversy, David Evans reviews

It does reach moments of brilliance and its political commentary sets it apart from most; but taken as a whole, the album sounds like a self indulgent attempt to stay relevant
Given the track listings of the newly awaited Morrissey album, I went into the record expecting a loud, proud and characteristically controversial set of songs. The first track, ‘My Love I’d Do Anything for You’, seemed to fit the bill and provided a genuinely fresh offering musically. Opening with wailing screams and then pounding you with a thick full sound it does a decent job of drawing you in and grabbing your attention. Perhaps a necessity when the rest of the album can feel like an hour of the ‘Pope of Mope’ laying the world to right with sledgehammer-like subtlety. It’s a shame as previous offerings have shown us that modern Morrissey is still capable of producing touching albums full of nuance and sensitivity; unfortunately Low in High School is not one of these. It does reach moments of brilliance and it’s political commentary sets it apart from most; but taken as a whole, the album sounds like a self indulgent attempt to stay relevant.

Too often post-2000 Morrissey tracks have felt dated by overproduction and try-hard electronica. Single track ‘I Wish You Lonely’ falls into this category, full of screeching synths and unsoundly chords, it leaves a bad taste following such a strong opener. A long way away from his efforts with The Smiths, the lyrics might not be touching but they are full of a vivacious aggression that’s consistent across the album. Wishing the target one day of the loneliness Moz experiences daily, it isn’t devoid of the self righteousness either. It’s a delicate balance between these two that defines the album, though all too often the latter tips the scales. The end line epitomises this: ‘I wish you lonely / Like the last tracked humpback whale / Chased by gunships from Bergen / But never giving in, never giving in’. Is it with a stroke of genius that Moz relates his wish of loneliness to animal rights, or is this gunship scene a tad overdramatic? I’ll leave you to guess my choice.

Musically the album suffers particularly here too; piano power ballads, mariachi cha cha cha’s, and forced Arabic influences make it particularly hard listening
Despite personal gripes with the man’s politics, lyrically Low in High School does feel in line with the times. ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ depicts turning over under the quilts and ignoring the news that only serves to manipulate you- Trump’s ‘Fake News’ anyone? Despite being in tune with the only person who could perhaps be more controversial, the single’s received a fair amount of airtime. ‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on The Stage’ sets out to address Brexit. Morrissey uses the analogy of a performer (Jacky) who craves the spotlight and eventually cracks from a lack of attention, supposedly from the EU, as an analogy for the British public’s decision to leave last June. Pro-Leave (and pro-Farage at that) Morrissey’s politics most likely aren’t too similar to his audience’s. Regardless, these are some of the strongest tracks on the album and mark where he gets being political right.

The politics do become relentless, particularly on the 2nd half. ‘I Bury the Living’ places blame at conscripts in war, whilst ‘The Girl from Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ and ‘Israel’ consecutively bash and praise the Jewish state. In fact all 6 tracks on the second half are overtly political: for some reason Morrissey has felt compelled to express his ivory tower perspective on everything from Venezuela to Trump. Musically the album suffers particularly here too; piano power ballads, mariachi cha cha cha’s, and forced Arabic influences make it particularly hard listening - ‘When You Open Your Legs’ being the high point for the levels of cringe. It’s honestly enough to make you crave a shower. A deft wordsmith, Morrissey’s lyrical creativity doesn’t absolve his painful self righteousness when covering the topics he chooses. Combined with recent controversies in the news, the album paints a picture of a man who comes off a little bit like an alt-right teenager; angry at the world and determined to get attention.

This self image of Icon is the source for Morrissey’s Marmite appeal. Did his autobiography deserve to be an instant Penguin Classic? Is calling the Chinese a ‘subspecies’ for the consumption of dog meat acceptable? Do recent comments defending Spacey and Weinstein as just hopeless romantics have any grounds? If your answer is no to any of these then it’ll be hard to enjoy this album without detaching the man from the music. He’s become the embarrassing uncle of alternative music: learn to laugh at him for it though because if you take him too seriously you’ll surely hate him. Either way he won’t mind, the feeling’s mutual ‘if you wonder what’s in my head / it’s just a hatred for all human life’ he decrees in ‘I Bury the Living’.

Morrissey will play Birmingham's Genting Arena on 27th February 2018. Tickets are available here.

First year Political Science & International Relations student at UoB. (@dwrevans)



Published

25th November 2017 at 9:00 am



Images from

Flickr



Share