In a way, Morrissey was built for the social media era. Few performers can match his ability for a pitchy quote, somehow managing to amuse and infuriate within the same paragraph.
Yet recently the singer’s protestations have built up online to provide a damaging backdrop to his work. Support for figures even UKIP deem controversial have forced the most longstanding of fans to air their criticism, while quotes surrounding Brexit and Nigel Farage place the Manchester icon in a different world from much of his fanbase.
‘Low In High School’, then, comes with a fair amount of baggage. It’s not so much that this baggage buries Morrissey’s work, though, it’s more that Morrissey’s own incoherency makes much of the album a jumbled, frustrating listen, full of lyrical dead ends and bizarre, sometimes outrageous, assertions.
It’s a shame, though, given that musically this is one Morrissey’s most confident statements in some time. Released with major label support, the production from Joe Chiccarelli is muscular, supplying a solid bedrock for the singer to perform upon.
It’s here that most of the record’s finest moments can be found. Romantically inclined opener ‘My Love, I’d Do Anything For You’ benefits from that warm wash of brass, while the jaunty electric piano on ‘Spent The Day In Bed’ is a perfect riposte to Moz-based charges of miserablism.
The musical daring, though, makes Morrissey’s own performances all the more frustrating. Those famed pipes are still in fine fettle, with torch songs such as ‘Home Is A Question Mark’ delivered with passionate yet lugubrious fury. ‘In Your Lap’, too, is a fine fusion of sparse arrangement and solemn lyric, those tumbling piano notes underpinning a moment of straight-faced reflection from the vocalist.
But the good moments never rise to past greatness, while Morrissey’s own faults are all too evident. A surfeit of political themes tie the singer’s work in with shifting geo-political elements, but you’re never left with the feeling that Morrissey has anything positive, or indeed unexpected, to add.
‘The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ and ‘Israel’ deal directly with Middle Eastern politics, lamenting the loss of innocence as Morrissey purrs “the land weeps oil”. Yet both are lyrically clunky, with the attempt to turn ‘Israel’ into an Epic Closing Number particularly ineffective.
What grates most directly, though, is Morrissey’s repeated dismissal of the armed forces. It’s noticeable that ‘Low In High School’ is released close to Remembrance Day, a period when the more reactionary forces in British society seem to turn on anyone who dares to not wear a poppy.
Perhaps it’s these elements that are prompting his ire, but the lyrics deal so directly with ordinary men and women in the services that they can’t, really, be ignored. “Tombs are full of fools who gave their life upon demand…” he says on glitzy synth number ‘Wish You Lonely’, while ‘I Bury The Living’ seems to mock the words of bereaved parents with its line: “It’s funny how the war seems to go on without our John…”
When not being objectionable, though, the main fault of ‘Low In High School’ is that it doesn’t really have any central thrust, any real purpose for being. We arrive in confusion and end in irritancy, having learned very little at all about Morrissey aside from a newly found proclamation for oral sex.
But perhaps we’re being too hard. Perhaps when we fully study the lyric sheet we’ll uncover some hidden allusions, a thread to carry us through. But we doubt it. ‘Low In High School’ feels confused, misplaced, and tedious. It’s not us, Morrissey. It’s you.
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