Nights In

Review: Low in High School by Morrissey

Separating the art from the artist is an idea increasingly visited upon by culture writers, fans and even by the artists themselves. Is it okay to enjoy Louis CK’s stand-up in light of his behaviour? Is it right to purchase the new Brand New album following Jesse Lacey’s sexual misconduct? Can we enjoy Kanye’s albums for their musical worth and ignore his egotistical lyrics and erratic outbursts?
Morrissey, however, makes it decidedly more difficult for his fans – even for those most loyal to his artistry. He has consciously imbued his latest releases with his political biases, which in itself is not a problem, but it does undermine his music when his ideals are muddled and lacking nuance. His self-righteous tone on many tracks make the album less of a statement and more of an Abe Simpson ‘old man shouts at cloud’ moment of ambiguity and pomp.
Most recently, Morrissey seemed to defend the predatory behaviours of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, saying of Spacey’s 14-year-old victim: “When you are in somebody’s bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead to.” His victim-blaming was followed by his deducement that Spacey had been “unnecessarily attacked.” He voiced his discontent with UKIP’s leadership race, claiming that it was rigged against anti-islam activist Anne Marie Waters. He welcomed Brexit with open arms – calling it “magnificent” – while in 2010, he referred to the Chinese as a “subspecies.” He also cancels shows more often than playing them – cancelling a LA gig last month because it was “too cold”.
He has forever courted controversy, yet his prolifically garish statements seem to have alienated many of his past fans and demagnetised any potential newcomers. His latest album, Low in High School, is his lowbrow attempt at capturing millennial malcontent – a wishy-washy mesh of brutally insipid lyrics and worn-out ideas that sound at home with much of the stale alt-rock balladry that make up the tracklisting.
‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s on Stage’ is one of the only tracks that sticks. Some have purported that Jacky’s story (Union Jack) is an allegory for Brexit. The refrain’s repetitive incantation of “Exit, exit//Everybody’s running to the exit, exit” could be interpreted as such, but he has since rebuked these claims, saying it is a much more personal tune. It’s gothic melodies are ambitious and rising orchestral trumpets give it a flourishing conclusion.
When Morrissey sings furlorn songs of love and belonging, there’s a striking tenderness to his voice that recalls a bygone era of musical prowess. ‘Home is a Question Mark’ is Morrissey at his most sincere. Beautifully arranged guitars twang gently in the distance as he postulates where, in fact, his true home lies. His views on multiculturalism are well-known – it may serve as a cloaked denunciation of modern-day Britain – but it is performed with a unmistakably teary-eyed Morrissey ‘swagger’.
‘I Bury the Living’ serves as the album’s emotional core but unfortunately for Morrissey, it’s a rotten core. A 7-minute anti-troop diatribe that is musically ambitious but falls flat. It’s less contrarian and more callous as he sings “Give me an order, I’ll blow up a border//Give me an order, I’ll blow up your daughter.”
On the same grossly myopic cut, he later sings from the perspective of a fallen soldier. “And with the grace of God, I will die in my own bed//If you wonder what’s in my head//It’s just the hatred for all human life.” It’s profoundly difficult to have sympathy for a man who has continued to etch away at his legacy, unsavoury word-by-word, underwhelming album-by-album.
His undying love of Israel is inelegantly woven throughout the latter half of the album, concluding with the flat piano ballad ‘Israel’. It’s an inordinately obtuse and vapid closer, he aligns Israel’s critics with impassioned pseudo-intellect. The flat vocals are circumvented by underwhelming piano chord progressions as he sings of western envy. “In other climes they bitch and whine//Just because you are not like them//Israel, Israel.”
‘The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ is a tragically turgid exercise in chastising America’s belligerent foreign policy. Morrissey single-handedly unlocks a century-old conflict in the Middle East with painstaking perception. “The land weeps oil, what do you think all these armies are for?”
His media personality is now intrinsic to his musical output which, regardless of your political beliefs, is self-flagellating and uninspired. What’s most saddening are the brief sights of a truly talented lyricist and musician that captured the imaginations of a generation, drowning in self-absorption and less-than-extraordinary songwriting.