Morrissey capitalizes on political controversy distastefully in new album ‘Low in High School’

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Grade: N/A

Editor’s Note: The Daily Californian recognizes that a numerical grading system cannot always account for the problematic history of the artists whose work we are grading. Given the harm caused by this artist, this critic has decided not to give this album a grade.

We’ve all had that feeling. You have a huge crush on someone you only sort of know. You see them in the halls. You like their style. Then, you start to get to know them. As fate would have it, their personality is not that great. We all know what it feels like to have to come to terms with the fact that this crush can never be a relationship. That struggle is not unlike the struggle one endures when listening to Morrissey’s new album Low in High School.

Veteran songwriter Morrissey is still kicking, having released his 11th solo album this past Friday. While the album itself is a balanced collection of honest, socially conscious and unforgiving tracks appropriate for today’s political climate, it’s still not an undisputable success. His call-out-the-man schtick is proving to not be so timeless. What’s most detrimental to his album is Morrissey’s own infuriating racist, sexist comments dating back to the dawn of The Smiths and continuing to today. All of these things ruin Low in High School.

Low in High School is an album whose purpose is to support depressed youths and — as per usual, in Morrissey’s case — expose corruption in the world. The third song of the album, “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage,” juxtaposes the gravity of lost identity in adolescence with a catchy, upbeat tempo and synthesized acoustics that lull one into humming the song upon first listen. “I Wish You Lonely” is the anthem for teens being embraced by the cataclysmic grasp of rebellion without a cause. He wastes no time in offering controversial institutions for teens to rage against, including but not limited to whale hunting, romance and heroin. Morrissey doesn’t really care what teens rage against, just as long as they’re angry enough to keep listening to his music.

The biggest problem is that what teens should be raging against is Morrissey.

These songs are charming tunes, but his position as the voice of teenage rebellion seems somewhat inappropriate for his age and how long he’s been doing this. Like Pixies had to evolve its music from youthful punk to a more tailored grunge sound, Morrissey needs to evolve his message in a similar way. It’s hard to believe that Morrissey still suffers those same edgy, angry problems that he did when The Smiths was released. What was once nuanced and captivating music that triggered unspoken anger of the young, passionate and unheard now feels a little old and bitter.

“The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel” — arguably the best song on the album — marries jazz undertones, an influence of Israeli folk music and the signature twinge of Morrissey’s voice silky over the piano to amplify the heart-wrenching lyrics tracing Israel’s decades-long struggle.

For anyone else, this song would be considered an impressive championing of political issues in a beautifully crafted song. For Morrissey, it is a muddled, vexed value he promotes constantly. He pretends to be fighting for Israel, and yet it seems as though he is leaning on the struggles of people of color, as he has done before, for the sake of a good song.

“Spent the Day in Bed” pleads for people to “Stop watching the news / because the news contrives to frighten you.” Maybe the most germane, timely lyrics he’s ever written, the song touches on the all-consuming depression that comes from endless coverage of disaster in the media. Yet, that news he’s asking us not to watch is now full of upsetting comments he’s made about recent sexual assault scandals in Hollywood.

Morrissey’s intention for this album seems honorable on the surface and nostalgically harkens back to the cathartic angst and dissatisfaction of the Smith’s first few albums. Taking his positive actions as sincere is difficult considering his problematic behaviors in the past. Morrissey has made some rather controversial comments under the guise of animal activism — comparing the 2011 Norway massacre of 77 people to McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken selling meat products, or referring to Chinese people as a “subspecies.” Isolating the art he creates from his extreme public image is impossible when those values directly affect the authenticity of Low in High School’s purpose.

The album is a teeter-totter between two kids hyped up on misguided angst. On the one side, the album’s tracks are balanced, sonically delivering on all the typical Morrissey expectations and commonly exceeding them even. The other side is one of unforgivable personal comments one just can’t get behind and a tired musical theme. With the moral conflicts that come attached, the relationship with Low in High School may have to stay as cautious flirting and never anything serious.

Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].