Low in High School
CD/LP and so on most likely (BMG)
In 2011 music journalist David Hepworth tweeted the words 'Goodbye Morrissey' in response to the singer's incendiary remarks about Anders Breivic massacring of 76 innocent Norwegians. Moz had allegedly announced to a stunned audience that Breivic's actions were 'nothing' compared to the everyday killing of animals by fast food chains McDonald's and KFC.
Hepworth's tweet still haunts me. Despite the vileness of Morrissey's remarks, I didn't have the conviction to say my goodbyes. Since then, the questionable opinions have flowed thick and fast: The Chinese were branded as a 'subspecies' because of their treatment of animals, there's his admiration for Nigel Farage, a disharmonious response to the Manchester bombing, a conspiracy theory about (anti-Islam activist), Anne Marie Water's failure of to be elected as the leader of UKIP... And on it goes.
But what of the artist? The risible novel? the score-settling (Penguin Classic!) 'Autobiography'? another forgettable album (World Peace is None of Your Business)? Mediocrity piled upon mediocrity.
Which brings us to the new album 'Low in High School'.
This year's Morrissey by numbers song is Spent the Day in Bed, both self deprecating and smug in equal measures (I spent the day in bed as the workers stay enslaved), occasionally hilarious (I'm not my type') and making a vague stab at the media ('the news conspires to frighten you'). Job done! Unfortunately, the rest of the album is not as predictably straightforward.
The first half of 'High in Low School' shows Morrissey on good behaviour. He can deliver a reasonable pastiche of his finest solo moments (Judy's only Happy When She's Up On The Stage and I Wish You Lonely could both have sat happily on Vauxhall and I or Your Arsenal), but then it goes seriously and disgracefully wrong.
It's not that the seven minute 'I Bury the Living' is such a sneery attack on those who have chosen a career in the military ('give me an order and I'll blow up your daughter'), it's the fact that it's such an utterly feeble lyric. Beyond the viscous lack of empathy, the narrator declares 'I'm just a sweet little soldier.' - this is how soldiers speak in Morrissey's world! The final two minutes of the song, where he takes on the role the now deceased soldiers grieving mother, is both spiteful and puerile.
The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel, set to an inappropriate bossa nova piano tune, reaches the staggering conclusion that 'what do you think all these conflicts are for? It's because the land bleeds oil.' Thus showing all the political insight of a particularly dim member of the Question Time audience.
All the Young People is a lumpen protest song (replete with Give Peace a Chance style clapping), observing that 'Presidents come, Presidents go, and no body remembers their name two weeks after they go.' It sounds like he made it up on the spot.
The grizzly 'Who Will Protect us From The Police?' feels like another dig at the authorities but, mystifyingly, ends with Morrissey repeatedly crying the word 'Venezuela'. However, simply dropping place names into a song does not qualify you as a Bono-like commentator on global issues.
Which leads us to the concluding 'Israel'. A bizarre, confused and confusing number that seems to concern itself with physical repression and offers the sage observation that:
Nature gave you every impulse,
Who are virgin priests to tell,
Who, how to love, how to live,
Yet again, it's not the subject matter that is in question, but the sheer lack of originality in the execution. Like most of the album it is a mess of overcooked musical ideas and under thought-out lyrics.
If you look back at those Smiths albums, at the 'songs that saved your life' you can recall how those songs articulated the author's anguish in such a unique, funny, warm and heartbreaking way. None of that is in evidence on Low In High School. Instead we are left with crass, broad brush statements that betray any notion of the genius that was once Morrissey's forte.
As a postscript, Morrissey has now chosen to speak his mind to a journalist about the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour being leveled against the actor Kevin Spacey, labeling the accusations as 'ridiculous' and questioning what the 14 year old Anthony Rapp, may have actually thought at the time. Suggesting that, by being in the actors bedroom, the young teenager should have been 'aware of where that can lead to.' His remarks are beyond reproach. Furthermore, it's becoming increasingly difficult to separate the big mouth of interviews from the artist responsible for the music. In doing so Morrissey is dismantling his own legacy, leaving the once adored 'lead singer of The Smiths' barely visible.
It is time we finally took heed of David Hepworth's words:
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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