It’s customary to start a Morrissey review by detailing all of the awful things he’s recently said or done, and then questioning how you could ever have been charmed by such a man. Well, I’ll oblige: his recent remarks in a German interview defending Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein whilst attempting to cast doubt and shame on their victims stands as one of his very lowest points, a despicable piece of misplaced empathy. Why voice support for the rich and powerful over their victims? The minority who still believe in Morrissey as a voice for the downtrodden must have dwindled to almost zero by now.
As a British person, I’m also disgusted by how Morrissey has consistently misrepresented Brexit as some great victory for the people of Britain. Stepping away from the biggest trade block in the world, simply because of a xenophobic mistrust of “immigrants”, is going to cause untold damage to the working class communities around the country, whilst the rich media moguls who promoted Brexit via a dominant right-wing press will be allowed to move their money offshore more easily, and hence benefit from everyone else’s suffering. Morrissey’s public support for Brexit, and also his defence of openly anti-Islam politicians, further exemplifies how little he genuinely gives a shit about the lives of ordinary people. He’s an empty shell of a man, a cruel-minded cynic and nothing more.
But like many others, I have to temper this disgust with Morrissey-the-man with an open admiration for his musical career. After all, there are many awful people working in the music business, and I’m of the firm belief that a person’s work should be judged separately from their public persona – or else I would never be able to listen to the glorious early work of Phil Spector, convicted murderer, ever again, for instance.
So as a big fan of The Smiths, and bits of Morrissey’s solo career, I settled down to Low in High School with an open mind and ears ready to be pleased. Within a few seconds, I found myself being lectured by Morrisey about the lies of the “mainstream media”. That’s when I knew I was in for a long 50 minutes.
The album’s title is appropriate because the whole thing sounds like it was written by someone in high school. I suppose that Morrissey believes he’s being outrageously provocative towards “liberal” “snowflakes” with lines such as “Stop watching the news!/Because the news contrives to frighten you” and his love letter to Israel: “In other climes they bitch and whine/Just because you’re not like them”. But really all he’s likely to incite with such lyrics is laughter, because they show how ignorant his attitude to current affairs really is. The same goes for the dull anti-Trump line “Presidents come, presidents go/And oh, the damage they do”. No matter on which side of the political argument he falls, you can always count on Morrissey for revealing absolutely nothing at all of interest.
Ok, that’s the last time I’ll mention politics. I promise.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you worship the man’s music, not his ignorant grasp of politics. Still, without Johnny Marr to inject beauty into his hollow temper tantrums, Morrissey’s been on a downward spiral since the late ’80s, and Low in High School is his emptiest musical adventure to date.
Not one song rivals even a mid-level release by The Smiths. It’s no surprise that Morrissey doesn’t have another “This Charming Man” or “Bigmouth Strikes Again” in him, but it’s a little depressing that he doesn’t even seem to be trying. His voice has no reach any more, it’s casual to the point where it allows his snide nature to keep on creeping in – that is partly a function of ageing, of course, but it also comes across as laziness. If you try singing along with him, it’s no longer the unpredictable ride that it used to be. He sounds like he wants to get the studio work over and done with, which saps the listener’s energy as well as his own.
Yet some of the musicianship that backs him is entertaining. There’s fun to be had with “All the Young People Must Fall in Love”, for instance, which uses handclaps and walk-on trombone embellishments to promote a sense of unity that’s quite spirited. And despite its lyrical daftness, “Israel” does use the low end of the piano and militaristic drumrolls to neat effect to create quite a sense of drama.
If only everything was so well-done. I feel frankly embarrassed for the 7 minutes of “I Bury the Living”, which mirrors its one-dimensionally stupid attack on soldiers with a portentous multi-part structure that has absolutely no emotional impact beyond causing irritability. If the idea of Morrissey doing prog-rock fills you with dread (and it should), do yourself a favour and press skip on that track.
In fact, you can safely press skip on the whole album. It won’t challenge your preconceptions like great art is supposed to do; it won’t consistently entertain like great music is supposed to do. It’s middle-of-the-road inanity from a formerly “great” artist whose greatness was doubtful to begin with. The whole album causes constant eye-rolling, even down to the album’s cover, which dully admits that the queen isn’t dead yet. And as much as I hate the artificially constructed “superiority” of the monarchy, I hate Morrissey’s humourless airs of superiority just as much.