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REVIEW: Morrissey – ‘Low In High School’ (BMG)

At 1.39pm on the 18th September 2017, the music world went mad when a tweet emerged under the handle @officialmoz. ‘Spent the day in bed…’ it read. A rather fitting first pronouncement into the Twittersphere from everyone’s favourite sensitive, melancholy vegetarian. Yes, Steven Patrick Morrissey is back!

Okay, so it later transpired that the tweet was obviously some kind of publicity campaign to reveal the name of his new single, rather than a witty insight into his daily life. But with the release of the unofficial biopic England Is Mine in August (a must-watch for any fan or foe), our appetites were certainly wetted for all things Moz, just in time for Low In High School, his eleventh and perhaps most politically-charged album yet.

Along with the album’s cover, on which a young boy brandishes an ‘Axe The Monarchy’ sign, the ‘down with the establishment’ narrative is established from the off. Opener ‘My Love, I’d Do Anything For You’, warns against the “propaganda” of the media, concluding that basically, “society’s hell’. So far, so Morrissey. Yet whilst this was all fresh and exciting with The Smiths back in Thatcher’s ‘80s, in 2017, when every Tom, Dick and Harry has something to say about politics, it feels slightly stale. That said, although the sentiment may not be anything revolutionary, musically, the track certainly packs a punch. It begins with harrowing warbles and soon morphs into some kind of Bond song-come-stadium rock anthem, combining cinematic brass and thumping guitar.

The angst continues on ‘I Wish You Lonely’, where Moz plays the usual anguished protagonist in an anti-war and yes, you guessed it, anti-monarchy spiel. But things start to get really interesting with ‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage’. Although it can be taken for what it says on the tin, it’s only on closer listening that you can see why it’s been interpreted as a big metaphor for Brexit. Once you see ‘Jacky’ (as in Union Jack, get it?) as representative of Britain, it all makes sense. When’s she’s not on stage (the EU), she “cracks” with “no script, no crew, no auto-cue”. The song even finishes with a frantic chant of “everybody’s rushing to the exit, exit”, and there’s clearly the odd “Brexit” slipped in there too. It might be an overly-politicised analysis, but knowing Morrissey, that’s exactly the reading he’d want you to make.

After all that angry chanting, the slower ‘Home Is A Question Mark’ is a welcome moment of calm, before the brilliant lead single ‘Spent The Day In Bed’. It’s Morrissey’s witty kitchen-sink realism at its finest. On the one hand, it’s a call for “enslaved” workers to “be good to yourself for once” in favour of their mundane nine-to-five routines. But alongside this is a wider commentary on the crazy world in which we live in, where watching the news “makes you feel small and alone”, all over a futuristic, ironically poppy and very catchy keyboard riff.

READ MORE: The Smiths // ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ at 30 years old

After such a snappy and clever pop song, ‘I Bury The Living’ is a slap in the face, returning (again) to the anti-war theme and drags on for seven and a half weary minutes. In fact, aside from the pleasant ‘All The Young People Must Fall In Love’, the latter half of Low In High School is all a bit overly-dramatic, even by Moz’s standards.

War? Check. The monarchy? Check. Brexit? Covered it. The only theme left to cover is… Israel? But hear him out, it’s not quite as random as it seems. Morrissey actually has quite a history with the country, having played several gigs to a big fan-base in Tel-Aviv and even receiving a key to the city in 2016. Yet rather than weave it subtly into the album, three whole songs are dedicated to the country, culminating in album closer ‘Israel’. It’s a ridiculous ballad whose slow piano and dramatic cymbals makes it sound like a finale to some kind of Israel-themed musical. Morrissey offers his views on the country’s conflict elsewhere on ‘The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel’, as well as the somewhat seedier side on ‘When You Open Your Legs’ which sees him stumbling out of a Tel-Aviv club at 4am. Although by now we’re used to Morrissey’s sudden passion for humanitarian causes, this is perhaps his strangest one yet.

After the dramatic fade out of this final track, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. For an album that starts off so punchy and even excitingly, it certainly takes a strange turn. Morrissey’s usual ability to balance his self-indulgence with socio-political commentary is instead replaced by a heavy emphasis on the latter. And with the exception of ‘Spent The Day In Bed’, it lacks the comic relief of his usual tongue-in-cheek wit. Whilst we wouldn’t expect anything less than a tormented and pessimistic affair from Morrissey, Low In High School is frankly an exhausting listen. Now, I’m off to listen to some ABBA or something to cheer myself up. (5/10) (Alice Williams)

Listen to Low In High School by Morrissey here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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