Morrissey – Low in High School
The Smiths' frontman returns with an 11th solo album that's by turns overwrought and underdeveloped
Morrissey's 11th album arrives as patience with the man himself wears thin. While he's always been, to put it mildly, a divisive figure, the scales seem to now be tipping out of favour with the former Smiths man. Since his last album in 2014, Morrissey has engendered ill-will thanks to a poorly conceived t-shirt featuring James Baldwin, appearing to support Brexit and Nigel Farage, releasing a terrible debut novel and sharing his UKIP conspiracy theories at a 6 Music live set, along with the usual cancelled tour dates (the most recent of which was supposedly because it was too cold).
However, Morrissey is usually forgiven (or at least tolerated) thanks to a steady flow of solid, though not impeccable, solo releases and the seemingly endless fountain of goodwill still left over from his Smiths days. His latest album, Low in High School, does little to replenish the well of empathy as it meanders lazily through topical material (the army, the police, Israel, etc) with typically caustic indifference.
The album begins confidently with a concentrated instrumental focus that forgoes the experimental elements of 2014's World Peace is None of Your Business. There're some big drums (My Love I'd Do Anything For You) and dramatic moments (Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On the Stage), but the lyricism is front and centre here, and Morrissey is never better than when he's allowed to indulge his neuroses and existentialism.
The lead single, Spent the Day in Bed, is the best coming together of lyric and arrangement, with quirky electronics grabbing your attention before the anti-'powers-that-be' proselytizing sweeps in to steal the show. However, it's on the album's seven-plus-minute centrepiece that the foundations start to shake. I Bury the Living contains a whole album's worth of ideas, from screechy guitars to ambient electronics, from war-mongering satire to boot camp drill chants. It's interesting, but it's too much.
From here on out, the album loses all focus as it jumps from piano ballads (In Your Lap) to incinerating civilians (All the Young People Must Fall in Love) to awkwardly shoehorned half-rhymes (Israel), with all the haphazard conviction that comes with second-rate filler.
Morrissey is teetering on the edge of irrelevance (many will argue he's well past it) and what he does next may determine the rest of his career. Morrissey can alienate fans with outlandish outbursts or with decidedly average new music, but both at the same time is surely too much for even the most forgiving fan.
Listen to: Spent the Day in Bed, Home is a Question Mark