These days, it seems like Morrissey is better known for making controversial statements, denying making said statements, cancelling shows, blaming others, and much else, over his actual music. However, he is still the British alternative music icon. His new output will never match his Smiths heyday, but that is a high bar. He will always have his legions of devoted fans, no matter how he treats them. His political viewpoints are blunt to the point of obviousness, but he also still has his underlying power. His new material has long catered to those fans, and not new ones. All of that continues on Low In High School, both lows & highs.
There are definite highs to be found on High School. “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On Stage” is very Moz in all the right ways, laughingly romantic about a burn-too-bright tragic figure, and fellow single “Spent the Day In Bed” nicely juxtaposes the pop-catch sound with darker meaning. The Mediterranean sounds behind “The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”, “When You Open Your Legs”, and “Israel” continue that extra world spice from his last, 2014’s World Peace Is None of Your Business (QRO review). Morrissey’s wry commentary (and excellent titling) is alive in “Open Your Legs”.
Unfortunately, Morrissey’s heavy-handed politics, and generally taking himself too seriously, too often gets in his own way. “I Bury the Living” is the most banally obvious anti-war, ‘from the point of view of the bad guy narrator’ since Conor Oberst failed in his attempt to ape Vietnam War protest songs with George W. Bush era “When the President Talks To God” (Morrissey is also over a decade late). There’s similarly no subtlety to “Tel-Aviv”, “Police?”, and “Israel”, though they are at least not as obvious subjects/stances: the middle one calls out specifically the brutality in Venezuela, while the other two are actually pro-Israel, bucking the odd trend of old white British male artists demanding an anti-Israel boycott.
And like any album by the venerable artist, this late into his career, there are forgettable tracks on High School that will never be seen again after this record’s tour, and no one will really miss them. Plus Moz just sounds desperate to have a young people’s anthem, despite his age, in the otherwise pleasant “All the Young People Must Fall In Love”.
Low In High School isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion about Morrissey (unless your primary concern for an artist is their stance on Caracas or Jerusalem). There’s still that mix of brilliance, egotism, and age that makes Moz, Moz.