I was a bit late for the party discovering Morrissey. In 1987, I heard The Smiths for the first time on the South Bank Show, only to discover they were breaking up. Their lead singer’s voice hit me hard in the chest, and I was sad he wouldn’t make me sad again. I followed Mozza’s – as I’m sure he hates to be called – first four solo albums from 88-94, but life got in the way of me catching his next five albums over the following decade. Jump 23 years later, and that voice has returned. This time I’m ready – well, sort of.
Low In High School arrives amongst rumours of bad health, and his usual outspokenness: Morrissey seems to be back on his feet and fighting. It’s nothing new to tear down tabloid attitudes or bring attention to injustices, and maybe approach them from an unexpected angle; every forum thread online tells you how they feel – but Morrissey got there first. He said “Meat is Murder” and demanded we “Hang The DJ” in the past. His targets today are still equally provocative as he mocks the established media.
The album bursts open with the impressive “My Love, I’d Do Anything For You”. Within the first words, he explains he’s back and he’s a voice against the levels of control. “Society’s Hell, you need me just like I need you’ – Morrissey needs his audience, and they need him… arrogant or truthful? It‘s a definite statement of intent, and his timing is perfect. This is the most certain he’s sounded in ages and he’s letting us know it.
“I Wish You Lonely” slinks and hums with self parody (although it’s difficult to tell with Morrissey). Again, he’s not pulling back on the punches: “Tombs are full of fools who gave their lives upon command”. Releasing this song on the week of Remembrance Sunday proves he’s out to provoke with intelligence and swagger.
“Home Is A Question Mark”, “In Your Lap” and “Spent The Day In Bed” seem like a private confession that even Morrissey requires stability and indulgences and sometimes something sexy: “When you meet me, would you wrap your legs around my face and greet me” feels more erotic than neurotic.
“Bury The Living” turns the tale of a soldier on its head and stomps its way into your brain. “Give me an order and I’ll blow up your daughter” – Morrissey never strays far from his hatred for enforced power of the military “might-is-right” philosophy, and singing from that perspective in an ironic way.
“Who Will Protect Us From The Police” takes on the controversial aspect of a scared child asking her daddy for help as they march on the street to be heard. It is no misnomer to assume the child’s father is an alt-right activist; Morrissey telling sympathetic tales of those who hate is nothing new. Maybe he likes to show humanity in the monsters of society in the hope that understanding them might ease conflict.
The album’s finale “Israel” sums up the album’s mission: to fix the world by revealing those in control – in this case religion – are not in Morrissey’s opinion any form of sanity in a world gone mad.
The variety of styles on this album indicates to me a similar feel to David Lynch’s recent return to Twin Peaks, where that director demonstrated his ability to produce something new – but in his style – each week. This is an album by Morrissey you can dance to – whether he wants you to not – as he croons about humpback whales being chased by gunships over tremendously catchy riffs and experimental electronic noises.
Being “on a break” from Morrissey and listening to him again after more than 20 years off was like meeting an ex girlfriend who you really fell out with, but you can’t remember who was wrong or right or why. If Morrissey was my ex, I think meeting him in the street might make me think that what we had was right for then, but not for now. But I’d be wrong.
The Smiths spoke to a generation who have now grown old, and may still hold “Hand In Glove” in their heart. It would be so easy for Morrissey to just repeat for nostalgia’s sake that same feeling in his new work – but after sixteen albums, he is still fresh and depressed, witty and on-point and uncomfortable, yet soulful as ever.
In my opinion, Low In High School is one of the high points of his solo career. It’s no Your Arsenal or Viva Hate, but there’s a lot to love here.
Low In High School will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other retailers on November 17th from Etienne Records / BMG.