The world is a bleak place according to Morrissey. He makes a hobby out of projecting his views into the public realm, thus leading him to be perhaps music’s chief provocateur. And in this fashion, seeing his music as a separate entity from his political viewpoint is problematic. In fact, Morrissey doesn’t seem too content to have this effect. Low in High School is shrouded in abject political bluntness.
Since 2014’s bloated World Peace is None of your Business, Morrissey has been as outspoken about affairs as ever. He praised Brexit as a ‘magnificent’ decision which led to Johnny Marr ruling out a potential Smiths reunion. Recently, he claimed the UKIP leadership election was rigged and more egregiously defended Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, questioning the credibility of the allegations against them.
Leaving all preconceived notions aside and focusing on the music, there is little on Low in High School that will engender that Kanye West-like guilty pleasure feeling you may experience where the music does the speaking. Morrissey’s eleventh solo album is a musically maximalist statement that depends on theatrical reverberations and sky-high crescendos to uphold the weighty subject matter. Horns, strings and classical style piano pop up throughout. The forcefully dramatic ‘In your Lap’ is one where you can imagine Morrissey on a stage with the spotlight on him, crying out against the horrors of war. The album does occasionally take on a musical-like quality.
‘I Bury the Living’ is a track that could stir some controversy, where Morrisey takes on the persona of a soldier in a sardonic rant against the glorification of war. He is seeking to expunge the idea of ‘heroism’ and propound the notion of war as state-sanctified homicide. A line as stark as “give me an order and I’ll blow up your daughter” will remain lodged in your hippocampus. The song is actually as darkly humorous as it is intense though.
And that leads onto the idea that Low in High School should not be taken too seriously. Maybe with Morrissey’s routine outbursts, they won’t. Certainly, when I heard the lead single ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ with all its banality and comic squelches in the background, it was a head-scratching moment. Although, I’m sure many of us could follow his mantra of the need for a prolonged slumber and isolation from the scaremongering media – ‘the news contrives to frighten you’. Elsewhere, there is some semi-bizarre nods to hair rock and oriental sounds. “All the Young People must Fall in Love” glides along with a happy-go-lucky 70s clapping beat as Morrissey wails about nuclear weapons incinerating people. An upfront tension exists between his self-importance and the adventurous, operatic production.
People need music to unwind, cheer them up or substantiate their emotions. Low in High School is more just Morrissey’s current agenda; a muddled string of murky sentiments glued together in a fabric of grandiose, super-imposing instrumentation. Being a die-hard Smiths fan must a tricky existence. When their messiah comes out with his contrarian views, will they say he should ‘stick to the music’? Low in High School is the album that will test their patience because their ability to decouple a truly legendary voice from his opinions, will be strained. It’s intriguing yet in equal part overbearing.