Morrissey – Low In High School LP

Morrissey – Low In High School LPMorrissey – Low In High School LPMorrissey – Low In High School LP

morrissey - Credit-Monika-Stolarska
Some thirty years ago Morrissey famously sang about dead people who had “loves and hates, And passions just like mine”. These days even his most ardent fans seem to be questioning whether his current loves, hates, and passions belong six foot under, or if he has just appointed himself the agitator general; the embarrassing uncle at the hipster wedding; the guy with the metaphorical hand grenade. In public he comes over as an ex-pat who is nostalgic for a country that never existed with a pocket full of Murdoch Press headlines which are always delivered out of context. It drives me crazy, but perhaps that’s the point.

I know these considerations should not really overshadow the music and songs that someone produces. After all it’s not uncommon for performers to be at odds privately with the political or social views of their audiences; but then maybe it’s all about expectation. In the 1980s and 1990s Morrissey created an atmosphere, building on a series of circumstances, creating feelings with which his fans could identify. Now his pontifications about Islam, Zionism and bit-part extremist politicians seem ill-advised, ill judged and out of step with the sensibilites of many who would call themselves Morrissey fans. I count myself as one of those fans and to be honest it is painful to watch, and with much of this album, Low In High School, to hear the man being sucked into such a cliche-ridden black hole.

The content of some of these songs saddens me, and it’s not for the reasons that many pundits have hit the hyperbole button with such gusto, resulting in the tirade of abuse that reviews have produced. It’s much more straightforward than that, and I will explain why.

But firstly lets hit some positive notes. Compared to the previous two offerings from Morrissey this album showcases his voice perfectly. His clipped baritone was held hostage to the faux latin feel of the World Peace Is None Of Your Business album and the expansive range he can produce was evident on only one tune – Smiler with Knife. This time around his vocals come over in a way that equals anything he has done in his solo career.

morrisseyThe production on this album is excellent also. It’s like producer Joe Chiccarelli learned his lesson from last time around. At no point do you expect someone to shout Arriba Arriba! cartoon-style at the end of a tune. After the weird motifs in the previous outing the musical production is clean and refreshing and adds to the spotlight on Morrissey’s vocal.

Where the tunes promise to be good they turn out to be excellent. The opening My Love, I’d Do Anything for You, had me looking to make sure I hadn’t loaded a Shed 7 CD in error. Once the tune got going it became apparent that this was Indie rock by design and excellent for all that. It was interesting and compelling with a proper use of brass this time around.

Tune number four, Home Is a Question Mark, sees Morrissey back in Come Back To Camden mode. As a result this is the oustanding track underpinned by Matt Walker’s signature drumming. All the things I love about the bloke’s songs are laid out here, and with another eight to come I was hopeful that there was something of a classic building up.

Unfortunately, apart from the sensual In Your Lap, it all went a bit Pete Tong from there on in. To me Morrissey has been at his very strongest when he’s been singing about two broad topics: things that have happened to him, and things that he sees in his mind’s eye, maybe born of observation, that become obvious to the listener as he paints those pictures for you. It’s like you can share the scene in your own mind’s eye.

As I listened to the insistent listing of tyranny, oppression, police brutality, war, and religious intolerance it became apparent that in these tunes he had lost it somewhat. I could not imagine him having had experienced any of this, nor did it ring true from observation, and did nothing to spark the imagination. It may be unfair to compare this to past glories but there was no “river the colour of lead”, or “tea with the taste of the Thames” here. Not even the likes of a “head in the clouds, and a mouthful of pie” to conjour the imagery necessary for him to get the messages across; whatever they may be.

In musical terms the tunes themselves range from pleasant to excellent but there is always the irritation of the sound-bite lyrics and the ham-fisted punch lines. He sings about the lives of normal people and obviously knows little about that. He sings about big ticket issues and obviously knows about as much about those too; and it shows.

The idea of comparing and contrasting the desire of people to just have nice lives and a good time with the political and economic reality as dealt to us by 24 hour news culture is laudable, but it’s clear that Moz as a political commentator is not as plausible as a man of his age needs to be.

It is quite apt to use a cliche here and this album is the proverbial curate’s egg. A smattering of tracks show that he can be as essential now as he has always been, but the others highlight by ommission that his strengths have always been telling stories and creating images in the minds of his listeners.

Unlike other reviewers you will get no abuse of the man from me, just mild disappointment. He’s trying to do something here, but to be honest in the majority of the songs his intent is beyond me. If I’m not longer part of his audience because I don’t get it, then that is sad to me, and I do not think that I’m alone. I’ll just clutch at the straws of the opening handful of tunes and look to see what happens next.

In the single Spent The Day In Bed he sings “….stop watching the news. Because the news contrives to frighten you”. Maybe he should take his own advice.

Low In High School will be released on Friday 17th November on Etienne/BMG.  Morrissey will be on Tour in the UK in 2018

Morrissey Tour Details

February 2018
Fri 16 Aberdeen BHGE Arena
Sat 17 Glasgow SSE Hydro
Tue 20 Dublin 3 Arena
Fri 23 Newcastle Metro Arena
Sat 24 Leeds First Direct Arena
Tue 27 Birmingham Genting Arena

March 2018
Sat 03 Brighton Centre
Wed 07 London Royal Albert Hall
Fri 09 London Alexandra Palace

Review: Ian Gelling
Photo credit – Monika Stolarska

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