Release Date: Nov 17, 2017
Record label: BMG
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Quiz: Morrissey's endless, withering disdain for cultural hypocrisy might get wearisome if not for A) his equally-relentless tenderness, B) his Wildean wit, C) the truth of his observations. Yes, it's D) all of the above. "Society's hell," he reminds us near the start of his latest offering, "you need me just like I need you." We do, and timing couldn't be better.
With chest-bursting drums and a salacious guitar vamp, recalling "Glamorous Glue" from 1992's Your Arsenal, the record swaggers into life; squalling, savage noise giving way to bold horns and disembodied, disquieting shouts. While it may be easy to read that quietly smug couplet as a message to wavering fans, this is not a record constructed as any kind of sop to the insanely dedicated following Morrissey has crafted over the last four decades. It is, in fact, much like its predecessor, 2014's World Peace is None of Your Business, a sonically adventurous, ambitiously choreographed record that, to these ears, appears to centre around a couple of key, if unusual, themes.
In the years following the 2014 release of World Peace Is None of Your Business, Morrissey's ornery contrarianism curdled. Once he embraced Brexit and flirted with xenophobia, he began to shed fans, including such prominent musical acolytes as Gene's Martin Rossiter. Defiant as always, Morrissey leans into these criticisms on 2017's Low in High School, populating the album with swipes at the mainstream media and contrived news -- words that deliberately echo arguments emanating from the right wing in both the U.S.
'T here are not many artists around today that can compare to Morrissey," offered record label BMG, when the singer inked the deal that brings us his 11th album. "He is prodigious, literate, witty, elegant and, above all, courageous. His lyrics, humour and melodies have influenced many generations." An enthusiastic tribute, but perhaps hard for long-time observers of Morrissey's career to read without immediately thinking: yeah, I'll give this relationship six months.
If Morrissey's over-written novel and under-considered outbursts left you fearing he'd exhausted all goodwill (again), his 11th album provides a few surprising ripostes. While more grumpy-old-devil galumphing and broad-firing in places than 2014's stately World Peace Is None Of Your Business, Low… occasionally summons enough leavening fervour to make a Morrissey album seem worth the time: no small achievement after his dreaded political blather. As is the way with modern Moz, you have to wade through some ungainly business for the gems.
On the November 16th episode of Sarah Silverman's new Hulu show, I Love You, America, the actress and comedian inserted a monologue prior to the opening that addressed her friend, and fellow comedian, Louis C. K's career-long string of masturbatory assaults. Why is this fact opening a Morrissey review, you ask? Well, because during Silverman's monologue, she posed the question: "Can you love someone who did bad things?" And we're now in a position to ask ourselves that same question when it comes to Morrissey, who, in a recent interview with Germany's Spiegel Online, defended Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein by basically laying blame for their own recent assaults against women and men on the victims.
We all have that friend from our past who we think of fondly. The wild times we had, the crimes we couldn't get away with now, memories that all start with a laugh…but now that friend has grown bitter and crass, their Facebook feed hidden so we don't have to see the racist rants, the pyramid schemes, the conspiracy theories that turned our once-fun friend into a bloated monster. For many music lovers, that friend is Morrissey.
Morrissey has always been a proud curmudgeon, so perhaps it was inevitable that his personal conservatism would one day curdle into reactionary politics. Once a reliable critic of Margaret Thatcher, the former Smiths frontman was recently derided as a xenophobe in part for his support of Brexit. In typical Morrissey fashion, he apologizes for nothing on Low in High School, and if anything he doubles down on his stodginess.
M orrissey's 11th solo album finds him on his own label, squelching with newfound keys on songs like Spent the Day in Bed, and riffing on favoured themes: loneliness and world affairs. As ever, the messages are mixed, on many levels. Bodily pleas for comfort - "I just want my face in your lap" runs In Your Lap - vie with come-ons. "Wrap your legs around my face", invites Home Is a Question Mark.
For all its trademark Moz-touches (overwrought and often hilarious lyrics, dense, exploratory sonics) 'Low in High School' often fails to connect - for more reasons than one. Like 2014's 'World Peace Is None of Your Business' which came before it, any smudge of sincerity is often overshadowed by a nasty cynicism and a smug self-righteousness. And then, there's the cringeworthy sex songs (but more on those later).
There's no easy way to tell you this, but Morrissey is fixated with the bit between your legs. His 11th solo album is chockablock with crotch. On 'Home Is A Question Mark', he implores you to "wrap your legs around my face" and on 'In Your Lap' he delivers the grim news that "I just want my face in your lap". You should also feel some trepidation when you hit 'play' on 'When You Open Your Legs'.
Short of downing a pint of frog's piss on I'm A Celebrity, releasing an album of country duets with Shane Richie or get caught whipping his cock out a la Louis CK, it's hard to imagine how Morrissey could sully his reputation any further. Shoddy solo album follows shoddy solo album as reliably as ignorant quip succeeds drearily ignorant quip. The ex-Smith's latest indiscretion occurred on the BBC, which has been promoting Low In High School with veritable gusto via plenty of radio play and invitations from Graham Norton and Jools.
Morrissey sure hasn't made things easy on us. As he stumbles, gracelessly, deeper into the 21st Century, the Pope of Mope has given his fans more than enough reason to wince each time they click on a news item about the one-time indie king: chances are he's made an incendiary, ill-thought-out political statement, or has canceled tour dates. Morrissey's courted controversy since the beginning, but as time has gone on it's seemed like he's less concerned about provoking thoughts and more about provoking anger in the most embarrassing ways possible.
Now that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series, the world's most beleaguered fan base belongs to Steven Patrick Morrissey. Though the former Smiths singer has made his share of excellent solo albums, he's also made his share of blustering, tone-deaf political proclamations. Factor in his tendency to cancel concerts for the flimsiest of reasons, and one understands why the Moz has become so increasingly difficult to love.
In a way, Morrissey was built for the social media era. Few performers can match his ability for a pitchy quote, somehow managing to amuse and infuriate within the same paragraph. Yet recently the singer's protestations have built up online to provide a damaging backdrop to his work. Support for figures even UKIP deem controversial have forced the most longstanding of fans to air their criticism, while quotes surrounding Brexit and Nigel Farage place the Manchester icon in a different world from much of his fanbase.