Morrissey is back and is as anti-establishment as ever with his latest controversial release Low in High School. Everyone’s favourite miserable Mancunian returns complaining about his lonely life and the state of world affairs as this latest album ranges from sorrowful ballads to chanty lyrics preaching his anti-establishment agenda.
Elephant wails and a stompy drum beat set the album right into gear with ‘My Love I’d Do Anything for You’. The anarchical tone is set off the bat with the opening line “teach your kids to recognise and despise all the propaganda” in this quirky love song. “Society’s hell you need me just I like need you”, Morrissey quips as he wishes for company in his lonely tirade on society as brass instruments drum up a sense of passion and excitement throughout the album.
This feeling carries over into the steady and more pop-centric track ‘I Wish You Lonely’, a song in which he first demonstrates his controversial, scornful views on soldiers. Morrissey repeats the line “tombs are full of fools who gave their lives upon command” throughout this song, which sits uneasy as an unsympathetic dismissal of war.
After an exciting start, the album falls back into a self-pitying ballad of loneliness
As ‘I Wish You Lonely’ fades out in comes the hauntingly tragic tale of a lonely actress desperate for attention ‘Jackie’s Only Happy When She’s Up on Stage’. This song wonderfully divulges into a hysterical mania towards the as the blood-pumping chant of “Exit! Exit! Everybody’s running to the exit” is laid over frantic high-pitched backing vocals and children’s laughter, cultivating a lasting, deeply uncomfortable feeling.
After an exciting start, the album falls back into a self-pitying ballad of loneliness that one would expect of a Morrissey record in ‘Home Is a Question Mark’. Despite the delicate, sombre feel created with the predictable use of a violin over the top, “home is just a word or is it something you carry within in you?” doesn’t quite hit the comedic existentialism of “does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body?” (‘Still Ill’, 1984) that we saw in his early lyrics.
The perky riff from single ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ takes the album back to Morrissey’s lyrical best as the message of avoiding mainstream media is an unobtrusive subplot to a song about avoiding responsibilities by staying bed. It strikes a joyous rebellious chord with the chant of “No boss. No bus. No rain. No train” and I must admit I giggled to “I’m not my type, but I love my bed”.
The violin comes back in over the sound of the crickets after the well chosen single, with the mood swiftly turning dark. ‘I Bury the Living’ is brilliantly unsettling as Morrissey once again mocks how we view our soldiers, as he slowly builds the song up into a chorus of “order mad canon-fodder” which unnervingly juxtaposes chanting with the anti-nationalistic theme of the lyrics. Yet again the album reaches a hectic climax with the character John being shot in the head, but this time it quickly flips into a falsetto of “It’s funny how the war goes on without our John” over a soft piano number, which clumsily but refreshingly brings back the humanity to what is often lost in his political messages.
Unfortunately, though the album very quickly falls flat with the weak piano ballad of ‘In Your Lap’, which nicely fades into equally forgettable ‘The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’ which is every bit as cliché as the title suggests. This track really sours the album with a tacky use of uninspiring Arabic instrumental influences in the melody. Lines like “the land weeps oil. What do you think all these conflicts are for?” suggest a disappointing ignorance regarding the complexity of the political climate of the middle-east.
From this point the album continues to drag with the unremarkable tracks ‘All the Young People Must Fall in Love’ and ‘When You Open Your Legs’. Lazy swipes at The President and political correctness really tarnish Morrissey’s catalogue of often poetic lyrics especially when accompanied by the continuation of uninspired cultural appropriation.
‘Who Will Protect Us from The Police?’ Attempts to bring the album back to the pumped up record it promised to be in the early stages. It flows nicely from alarm and claxon effects over a heavy drum beat to a brief calmness of a heartbeat beat before being topped off by a crescendo of trumpets which revive the anarchical surge of the record.
there are signs of deep elegance within the record
Despite a flat middle section, Morrissey’s beautifully haunting piano ballad ‘Israel’ ends the album strongly. Morrissey beautifully constructs a wonderful picture of the struggles dealing with suppressed desires when oppressed with religious conformity in what is his best display of vocals on the record. The elegant piano melody is complemented perfectly by perfectly timed drums, which leave the track right before the end as if soft piano fades out, ending the album with a lasting, uneasy feeling of haunting beauty which is telling of the mood of the album.
While hints of Morrissey’s unquestionable talent can still be seen, Low in High School is rooted in mediocrity, suffering a tired and uninspiring feel of what could have been an addition to his phenomenal discography. Despite his clunky political remarks and the lazy appropriation of middle-eastern inspiration there are signs of deep elegance within the record, with Morrissey still capable of evoking unease, passion and even occasionally a smile.