In 2017, Morrissey is an artist whose reputation precedes him. It seems as though barely a word can be said of the man today without shoehorning in either disparaging or glowing comments towards his politics and worldview. Perhaps this is no surprise because, to be fair, he’s been practically shouting his views from the rooftops for most of his career. His work, likewise, has long served as grounds for him to push his agenda across; a fact that seems to either engender passionate fandom or equally eager revilement. ‘Low In High School’ does nothing to change this career-long trait of Morrissey’s work; the album bristles with straight-laced statements of intent as likely to push away as they are to attract. On lead single ‘Spent The Day In Bed’ he declares “I recommend that you stop watching the news / because the news contrives to frighten you” – within minutes of the song appearing online comment-sections across the net turned into battle grounds of agreement and distain for the sentiment. Such is the way of Moz.
‘Low In High School’ is an album that only really serves to cement the pre-held views of those coming to it. It’s not just the lyrics that remain defiantly, quintessentially Morrissey; the music, too, has many of the trademarks long associated with his work. Therein, perhaps, lays a problem. By and large ‘Low In High School’ constitutes pretty typical work for Morrissey; it’s nowhere near his most vital or engaging set of songs but by the same flip of the coin, it’s far too solid and reliable an album to be near his weakest. The album’s flaw, then, comes not from the songs themselves but rather in the way in which they are arranged, executed and produced. For the album Morrissey reeled in Joe Chiccarelli and, although the collaboration has certainly put a new spin on a collection of songs that otherwise could have been business-as-usual, for the most part they suffer rather than benefit from it.
Arrangements seemingly follow the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach; it’s an unfortunate decision that stifles a good number of songs on the album, suffocating potentially worthwhile songs under layers of gaudy, overblown synth and overbearing drum work. ‘Low In High School’ feels very much like an album of two halves; the record’s first five songs essentially constitute a barrage of tasteless instrumentation and questionable mixing choices – significantly dulling the impact of what could otherwise be a solid collection of songs. It’s not until the seven minute ‘I Bury The Living’ that a touch of nuance and subtlety appears on the album. It’s also no coincidence that the song is one of the highlights of the album; not only is the instrumentation fittingly spare (at least comparatively) but lyrically it’s one of the most complete and intriguing songs to have been penned by Morrissey in quite some time.
The latter half of the album is a generally more focused one than the album’s messy first act. One thing that must be said in the album’s favour is that Morrissey remains in excellent voice throughout; impressive not only given his age but also his recent medical problems. It’s when the brash overdubs and needless string parts of the first few songs are traded in for a more natural sound later on in the album that his voice really shines through. ‘The Girl From Tel-Aviv’ is excellent and a definite highlight on the album, a reminder of just how good Morrissey can be when he’s focused. ‘All The Young People Must Fall In Love’ is hardly the most striking thing he’s ever written, but with a musical backing taken straight out of the early ’70s folk-pop scene, it’s an enjoyable enough romp and certainly not a great let-down.
The blaring synth makes a return for ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police?’ but, this time, it actually works in the song’s favour; the throbbing rhythm fitting well into the album’s moodiest cut. In typical Morrissey form, ‘Low In High School’ isn’t complete without an oh-so-sincere piano ballad – this time coming in the form of album closer ‘Israel’. The lyrics are unapologetic in the way that few other artists than Morrissey can be and, whilst not all will be taken with the lyrical content, musically it’s definitely one of the stronger cuts on the album. It does, however, close the record on something of a dour note. Morrissey has always played with the image of a grim-faced grump; at first playfully and then, in more recent years, seemingly seriously. The sense of humour that made his early work so vital is perhaps not totally absent on ‘Low In High School’, but it is thin-on-the-ground and the album does feel a tad too self-serious.
Even so, ‘Low In High School’ is a mixed if mostly solid effort and fans will find material to enjoy here. Morrissey has definitely delivered far stronger solo albums – and recently, at that – but those willing to overlook the album’s flaws will find a decent amount of solid material, with a few excellent cuts dotted amongst them. All things considered, then, ‘Low In High School’ is a slightly disappointing follow-up to the sporadically flawed but generally excellent ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ and it’s not an album that can count itself amongst the stronger points of Morrissey’s solo discography. Nevertheless, it does have plenty of worthwhile and even excellent material to offer. Although it’s certainly Morrissey’s patchiest effort in quite some time and production fails to gel with the songs just as frequently as it manages to succeed, even so ‘Low In High School’ does find Morrissey delivering some engaging, well executed songs amongst the less satisfying material on the album.
The albums full track listing is as follows…
- My Love, I’d Do Anything for You
- I Wish You Lonely
- Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage
- Home Is a Question Mark
- Spent the Day in Bed
- I Bury the Living
- In Your Lap
- The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel
- All the Young People Must Fall in Love
- When You Open Up Your Legs
- Who Will Protect Us From the Police?