Album review: Morrissey – Low In High School

Fans of both Morrissey and The Smiths will be eager to hear what the legendary songwriter has whipped up on his latest album Low In High School, but will it live up to the hype?

Steven Patrick Morrissey has been making headlines for the wrong reasons in the build up to this release, most notably when he showed support and sympathy for those Hollywood stars accused of sexual misconduct. He has never shied away from his controversial views, and on his 2017 album he once again tackles them head on. Unfortunately, on the whole his songwriting appears to not be ageing well, as he fails to charm his way through odd choices of subject matter. From comments on UKIP, war, and more specifically Israel, Low In High School is bound to ruffle a few feathers.

Morrissey is one of music’s most prestigious songwriters of all time, with his earlier works being filled with wit and angst. There may be signs of his former writing skills on display this time around, but too many of the lyrics show blatant bitterness as he reaches the later stages of his career. Since his heyday in The Smiths, his melodies and stories have been studied, and idolised by musicians; inspiring thousands of acts that we hear today. Roughly every three years, Morrissey has given fans a new album to hear, most recently 2014’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business, and before that with Years Of Refusal (2009), and Ringleader Of The Tormentors (2006).

“Low In High School” is an ugly start to what unfolds into an equally unattractive introductory track. Hollow anti-establishment sentiments, and a general distain for the society we live in pave the way for an uninspiring collection of songs. The opener’s arrangement is quite over produced, with blasting horns, feedback, noise and heavily distorted guitars, but the overriding element is the vocal. This album has proven one thing though; Morrissey has retained a quality singing voice, and an ear for melody all these years on.

There is a generic blandness that spreads across this release, but some of his old magic is definitely still there on tracks like “Home Is A Question Mark”, and the Middle East-inspired “The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”. It is a shame however, hearing such depressing lyrics. ‘The news tries to frighten you / to make you feel alone / to make you feel that your mind isn’t your own‘, is one of many uninspiring lines on “Spent The Day In Bed”.

The ugliness within the lyrical content has transferred across to the music also; “I Bury The Living” is as equally lost sonically as it is lyrically. Here he treads confidently on sensitive ground, carelessly singing about loss of human life at war, as well as their loved ones back home. There is even a dramatic, disturbing chant, backed up by army-like male shouts, repeating ‘automatic cannon fodder‘ over and over. On the whole, Low In High School comes across as particularly preachy, even for Morrissey…

It is a real shame, because his former glory does shine through at times, and these heartwarming parts are a welcome contrast to the majority of doom and gloom. The piano, guitar work and overall production is smart, if not a touch overcooked in general. There are a handful of golden choruses, and engaging arrangements to match them, but out of the twelve tracks there are unfortunately more bad than good. Hardcore Morrissey fans may struggle to hear what is wrong with this album, but those who are able to take a step back will find it a tough pill to swallow. There is a grandness that always surrounds his work, and it is still there, even if it is clouded by bitterness. Why not come and give it a chance in one of our demo rooms at your local Richer Sounds today?