Morrissey's eleventh full length solo album, Low in High School delivers a series of snarling, anti-establishment
driven alternative rock songs, typical of the former Smiths’ frontman.
Released on 17 November, the album art for this LP makes the content of the record obvious, with a young boy standing outside Buckingham Palace, wielding an axe and a sign reading 'axe the monarchy'. As you would expect then, the album is filled with anti-monarchy, anti-war, and generally anti-establishment sentiments that fall short despite providing an interesting listen.
Morrissey is well known for his controversial opinions, but on this record especially, it seems as if he makes no effort to accommodate any other point of view, and preaches his own in an annoyingly self-assured way. On the lead single Spent the Day in Bed he implores the audience to not watch the news, because it 'contrives to frighten you' and 'to make you feel small and alone'. I Wish You Lonely has him crooning about 'tombs full of fools who gave their life upon command of monarchy, oligarch, head of state, potentate' who are now 'never coming back'. It is lyrics like these that show a distinct lack of sympathy and awareness from Morrissey for alternative perspectives and result in several somewhat distasteful songs.
The instrumentation on Low in High School is much more enjoyable, although still not particularly standout. All the tracks have a distinct brooding menace to them, which gives the record a nice sense of cohesion, with Jesse Tobias’ Fender Starcasters and Boz Boorer 1963 Telecaster –in addition to his different Gretsch models- providing many of the driving grooves on the album. Songs like Home Is a Question Mark and I Bury the Living have unique melodies that give the cuts a vigorous energy, but there are also moments such as The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel when the instrumentation takes a bit more of a low key direction with massive reward. Despite this, there are only a few parts where the songwriting truly excels.
Overall, Low in High School is not without its merit but by the same token lacks a lot of the qualities needed to make it outright good. There are definitely some catchy and well written songs, and having a musician willing to speak his mind and challenge opinion is undoubtedly beneficial. However, the way in which these opinions are expressed makes the content of the record particularly dislikeable, and the shortcomings of the actual music on the album means the end result is lacking.