As much as the practice of separating the art from the artist is vociferously preached, it’s something that’s become notoriously difficult when it comes to Morrissey. Obviously with album titles like Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead during his time in The Smiths, his stance on the monarchy, animal rights and right-wing political leaders became clearly established, but his outspokenness on the subjects in later years have been abrasive to say the least. Just look at the artwork of this very album; this isn’t a man willing to mince words, and often it can come across as rather grating or obnoxious.
That might as well be the tag line for Low In High School, Morrissey’s latest attempt at lording over a public whose political views might not align exactly with his, and resorting to horribly smug condescension to address that. That might be an approach that sits well with some, particularly longtime fans of both The Smiths and Morrissey’s solo work that have found some solace in his views, but from an artist who is, by all rights, a mainstream public figure whose persona has frequently been one of a self-satisfied, self-important individual – the “intellectual” alternative to the Gallagher brothers, if you will – this doesn’t do much to break down those barriers and frankly, only makes him less likable.
At least instrumentally Low In High School has some moments worthy of praise, and while there are few things that can make Morrissey’s foppish honk of a voice wholly tolerable, there’s at least work put in here. It helps that this isn’t an album resting on the ’90s crutch that so many acts of his vintage has stuck with, instead opting for something closer to older indie-rock by way of scuzzier Britpop and garage-rock. And early on, that does work; the thicker guitars and bassline of My Love, I’d Do Anything For You feel that much more muscular when the deep, blaring horns come in, while I Wish You Lonely has a whirring synth that has some pleasant abrasiveness, and the bubbling keys of Spent The Day In Bed easily make for the most entertaining and easily imprintable track here. Even for the turn for the worst that does eventually creep through – see the runny piano ballad In Your Lap and the tinny, lo-fi kelzmer impression of The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel – it’s at least easy to see that Morrissey and his band are actively trying on a musical front rather than simply rehashing some Smiths-esque indie-pop and being done with it.
And yet it’s hard to say that any of that really stands out, particularly with the small to medium-sized minefield of Morrissey’s writing is in the way, and considering this is supposed to be another massively profound dissection on the state of the world, he tackles it with the tact and nuance on an average Facebook comment. As basic and surface level as The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel and Who Will Protect Us From The Police? are, and as hilariously embarrassing as the sexual imagery on In Your Lap and When You Open Your Legs can be (unsurprising from a man who’s won awards for writing bad sex scenes in the past), they’re at least forgivable; it’s when Morrissey’s coarser views come through that Low In High School becomes a truly ugly listen. For as plentiful as the issues with the army are, spending I Bury The Living‘s seven-and-a-half minutes calling everyone who joins classless and “a wretched outcast”, and then proceeding to openly laugh at the mothers of war dead shows a level of self-superiority and lack of care for the working classes better fitting to the right-wing politicians that Morrissey has so often stood against, though it’s hardly surprising considering how the sentiment of opener My Love, I’d Do Anything For You boils down to Morrissey’s beliefs that the public need him to lay down the truth. At least on Spent The Day In Bed, for all of its condescension towards the working classes for not being able to fritter the days away like Morrissey can, there’s a kernel of humanity there; far too often, Low In High School is so concerned with coming across as better and more intelligent than its audience that it’s just not worth the effort put into listening to. If anything, it’s kind of fitting that this album is being released now, given that Morrissey comes across like so many online commenters – unable to perceive that others have a different viewpoint to his own, and acting as boorish and unpersonable as possible to get it across.
It really does cloud the vast majority of the appeal that this album has to the point where, beyond a few instrumental fragments that are pleasant enough, there’s nothing worth listening to here that’ll result in much enjoyment. For as much as Morrissey clearly sees himself as some grand bringer of truth that’s so desperately needed, there’s nothing that’s even remotely revelatory here, and only ever noteworthy when he’s behaving like a conceited dick trying to convince everyone else of his own dubious superiority. It may be a shade away from being utter shovelware, but that’s hardly the greatest piece of praise that can be awarded.
For fans of: The Smiths, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Low In High School’ by Morrissey is out now on BMG Rights Management.