“It’s just a hatred for all human life,” Morrissey shrugs on his eleventh studio album. Autobiographical or not, that ever-growing contempt for others makes Low In High School‘s subpar quality even more unforgivable.
Over the years, Morrissey has become the difficult, polemic person working in your IT department – for all the grouchy remarks, questionable sick days and controversial comments, he’s pretty adept at rebooting your hard drive. In other words, swaths of the songsmith’s fanbase were happy to turn a blind eye to the odd dubious statement as long as he kept producing stellar albums.
It’s fair to say, though, that upon recent revelations Low In High School simply has to deliver. 2014’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business saw Morrissey re-energised and revitalised, even if it occasionally descended into sloppy self-indulgence. Since then, though, we’ve had gig cancellations due to cold rooms, woefully inappropriate remarks concerning UKIP and a novella that described a penis as a “bulbous salutation.” Morrissey is in the last chance saloon.
If Rome coloured the dextrous Ringleader of the Tormentors, then Israel provides the backdrop to Low In High School. The striking horns and flamenco shuffle of ‘When You Open Your Legs’ begins with Moz being asked to leave a Tel-Aviv bar, while the closing ‘Israel’ is a humdrum hymn to a country that provokes, according to the bequiffed curmudgeon, jealousy and rage.
The main issue with Low In High School is, even when removed from Morrissey’s increasingly frustrating outbursts, it leaves a very sour taste. The galloping drums of ‘I Bury the Living’ – a turgid seven-minute slog of a song – ends with ghastly laughter at fallen soldiers, as Moz cries “give me an order and I’ll blow up your daughter.” Meanwhile, brutality rears its head on ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police?’, another slice of ugly guitar thumps, stabbing synths and musical dissonance.
Even songs with potential, such as the glam stomper ‘My Love, I’d Do Anything For You’ and the intriguing narrative of ‘Jackie’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage’, are slathered in sullen instrumentation and murky gloom, regrettably matching the rather bitter subject matters.
When Moz’s band strip it back, the melodies shine – lead single ‘Spent the Day In Bed’ is a lilting, laid-back ode to procrastination over a twinkling keyboard motif. Elsewhere, standout song ‘All The Young People Must Fall In Love’ is rich with melody, a breezy acoustic shuffle as Moz sings “the kids ’round here, have the best idea…Presidents come, presidents go”, his gentle baritone matching the ageing boulevardiers he so often admires.
Low In High School has fight and urgency, but often miscommunicated through mundane melodies and shapeless musical experimentation. One would say it is an album purely for the fans, but with Morrissey’s continued controversy, how many exactly are there left?