Review: Morrissey is a cry baby on Low in High School
Morrissey retreats back into his childish worldview on his nasty and spiteful new album
I wonder what Morrissey makes of that new Christmas ad for a well-known British retailer which features a rather large monster called Moz living under a kid’s bed? Moz the Monster turns out to be a nice bloke but the same can’t be said for Morrissey on his spiteful and distorted eleventh album.
The faithful have long struggled to remain patient with their wayward hero and his more, well, monstrous outbursts over the last few decades. He has long played fast and loose on songs with questionable undertones and flirted with the right-wing boot boys of the National Front in England and, more recently, voiced what looked like support for Ukip.
Then again, this is a man who has often valued animal rights over human life. The very humanity and empathy that made Morrissey a beacon for the lost and lonely all those years ago has been slowly ebbing away for a long time now.
However, it has evaporated completely with this deeply silly and self-regarding new collection of mini-dirges, piques and willfully misinformed rants.
Staggering about like a self-pitying bore, Morrissey ploughs into hugely complex and sensitive issues like a bull in china shop. Always admirably provocative, here he sounds needling and mischievous.
The British monarchy and clueless record label bosses all come in for a good Moz monstering but the bad news is that Morrissey has gone global on Low in High School. He’s stopped bleating about Brexit and instead turns his withering gaze to centuries-old religious and political conflicts instead.
Recorded at La Fabrique Studios in France and Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome with producer Joe Chiccarelli, the music is similarly barbed and abrasive. It has only a little of the exotic flair and audacity of 2014’s excellent World Peace is None of Your Business and in fact, guitarist Boz Boorer sounds like he’s reasserting himself on several songs of dull guitar rock that have made it onto the album.
Always admirably provocative, here he sounds needling and mischievous.
The discord and bad feeling starts early with Love, I’d Do Anything For You, which explodes into life with the sound of distant wailing and a ceremonial blast of horns before locking into an enjoyable glam rock stomp.
Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on Stage (the Jacky may or may not be a reference to his sister Jacqueline) is a fun portrait of a fading star in denial about their success and he’s even more autobiographical on the startlingly honest Home is a Question Mark, which addresses his long self-imposed exile in LA and Rome. Moz wrings real emotion from the song and it’s a welcome break from the querulous self-absorption elsewhere.
In fact, when he hasn’t got his head stuck in the sand or wrinkling his nose in petulant disdain, Morrissey can still write a decent tune and a cracking lyric. Recent single Spent The Day in Bed with its call to arms refrain of "No bus, no boss, no rain, no train" is zesty carnivalesque packed with great musical surprises.
However, the rot is back on the awful anti-war dirge I Bury The Living. He lets the industrial/military complex off the hook completely and lays the blame for conflict squarely on the shoulders of the misguided lumpen proles who have signed up to fight on the front line.
At seven minutes in length it’s a real slog. Musically, it’s as tiresome as The Smiths’ 1984 song Meat is Murder and while it does feature a moving coda about the impact on the families left behind when their loved ones die, it’s hardly Bob Dylan’s Masters of War or Army Dreamers by Kate Bush.
Recent single Spent The Day in Bed with its call to arms refrain of "No bus, no boss, no rain, no train" is zesty carnivalesque packed with great musical surprises.
In Your Lap is a windswept piano ballad which invokes the Arab Spring and then plunges into a lyric of vertiginous bathos which is either very funny or very ill-advised. There are no doubts on the mournful and blackly humorous tango The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel; Morrissey unlocks a century of conflict in the Middle East with the breathtakingly perceptive line "the land weeps oil, what do you think all these armies are for?"
Along with the rather superb Spent The Day in Bed, All the Young People Must Fall in Love is pretty excellent as it springs blithely along on parps of tuba, great drum fills, hand claps, kazoo and rinky dinky percussion. The ghosts of Morricone’s Forum studio can be detected on the otherwise pedestrian When You Open Your Legs, yet another song that displays Moz’s wink wink, nudge, nudge oral fixation.
He unlocks a century of conflict in the Middle East with the breathtakingly perceptive line "the land weeps oil, what do you think all these armies are for?"
The bombastic Who Will Protect Us from the Police? is most probably based on an unfortunate experience he claims to have endured with an Italian traffic cop earlier this year. A sense of proportion was never one of Morrissey’s stronger suits and here he compares the alleged incident to a brave battle against fascism with lyrics as risible as anything from previous career nadirs such as Kill Uncle and Southpaw Grammar.
He saves the worse until last. Even the most open-minded, patient and dedicated Moz acolyte will baulk at the self-indulgent and myopic finale that is Israel, a mordant epic that dismisses international opprobrium of that divisive nation as jealousy. Looks like Theresa May could have a replacement for Boris Johnson at the UK’s Foreign Office at last.
This bewildering record reveals a worldview so simplistic and solipsistic that it verges on the childish. At the ripe old age of 58, it’s high time Morrissey grew up.
Alan Corr @corralan