LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL by Morrissey
Morrissey – LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL
Genre: Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage,” “While In Your Lap,” “Home Is a Question Mark”
Morrissey’s solo career got an inauspicious start—it was founded on doubt. Detractors saw little reason to believe he could have success in a post-Smiths era; while he was the face of the band, they were a unit, and the idea of Morrissey matching their heights alone seemed unlikely. But his debut, VIVA HATE, turned out better than anybody expected, spawning classics like “Suedehead” and the not-so-subtle “Margaret on the Guillotine,” and seeing that he could successfully extol on British culture and anxiety on his own, Morrissey was able to take the ‘90s head-on with a more burlier stature. Though he was not without his stumbles as he entered the 2000s, he regained his composure with his late period comeback YOU ARE THE QUARRY. Now nearing 60, and with over 30 years of work under his belt, it’s curious as to what else he would have to say. But Moz is a persistent guy, unfazed by age, and determined to comment on the current state of affairs. There’s an ample base for discussion, as his 2015 album, WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, showed, however, the extent to which it’s as titillating as his past work is unlikely. Maybe Morrissey should give it a rest.
There’s no question that Joe Chicarelli’s production on LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL is sumptuous, but it primarily conflagrates rather than backs up the grand political musings Moz is darting. “Teach your kid to recognize and despise all the propaganda / filtered down by the dead echelon’s mainstream media,” Morrissey preaches on opener “My Love, I’d Do Anything For You” with muscular guitars swirling behind him. And if those aren’t lavish enough, horns enter to reinforce the chorus, the foyer to the mid-song break signaled by sound effects akin to a STAR TREK beam-up. The song is even bookended by aggravated punk howls, and purposeful or not, it has no place amongst the garishness. Again, on “I Wish You Lonely,” wobbly synths zap and guitar licks ring out as Morrissey dotes on the working class who “gave their life upon command of monarchy, oligarch, head of state, potentate.” On the piano-led closer “Israel,” the sweeping spaciousness undercuts the heft of the song’s subject. There’s an emphasis on drama, with a somber violin and marching drums eventually trouncing the message as self-aggrandizement takes helm; it feels more about Morrissey than the plight of Israel.
It’s possible I’m just getting tired of Morrissey’s complaining, exacerbated by LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL. I know somebody has to do it, and resignation has never been the Moz’s style, but grouchy old man isn’t very fitting either. That’s not to discredit his songwriting, though, which offers occasional wryness and wit to chew on. “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage” features a well-crafted parable about the UK leaving the EU. Morrissey sets up as young actress named Jacky and chronicles her downfall when she’s without her lifeline, the stage: “Jacky cracks then she isn’t on stage . . . No script, no crew, no auto-cue . . . Exit, exit / everybody’s heading for the exit, exit.” At this moment, the song goes bare—the synths, the strings, the horns, and the drums cut out for a rich bass line. But unfortunately, it doesn’t last long before the original instrumentation swoops back in. Without flashes of Morrissey’s trademark cunning inveighing, much of the songs’ musical shell recalls the substance-less ritz of The Killers. I mean, even the title “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage,” sounds like a HOT FUSS outtake.
Morrissey’s best performance comes on LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL’s more minimalist outing, “In Your Lap.” While still highly politicized in its lyrics (“The Arab Spring called us all / The People win when the dictators fall”), it’s not distracted by some saturated musical arrangement. It’s only Morrissey and his piano, with maybe some soft feedback sulking in the background. You can really feel the exhaustion, though, as he sings, “I rescued you in so many ways . . . And I’m so tired of counting the days / I’m so tired of counting the days.” Morrissey, one of music’s most active muckrakers, sounds utterly weary, and now with activism reaching futility, all he wants is some company: “They live to kill and they love just to harm / And I’m dreaming of touching your arm.” The world nearing implosion, it wouldn’t be horrible to face it with a partner.
As stated in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, LOW IN HIGH SCHOOL refers to Morrissey’s concern with “anyone feeling academically or spiritually low in high school . . . directionless or hopeless. Can young people ever be carefree again?” It’s admirable in its intent, and surprising too, as Morrissey hasn’t found a problem with today’s youth yet. But it seems this was the least prominent motive behind the songwriting present. The cover certainly suggests otherwise, as a tween armed with a hatchet and an “Axe the Monarchy” sign, stands outside the royal gates. And Morrissey would love to think that his “All the Young People Must Fall in Love” could stand as the theme song for today’s rebellious youths, yet it’s so heavily draped in cold bombast (handclaps, jangly guitars, blaring horns) that no room is left for a juvenile connection. For a figure who was so deeply entrenched in youth culture, who made an effort in proving that some gauche adolescent could make a voice for himself, it’s scary how drastically he’s lost his touch.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend