"Low In High School" review by Michael James Hall in The Line of Best Fit (7/10)

Morrissey’s 11th solo LP is assured, salacious and not without problems - The Line of Best Fit

"Society’s hell / You need me just like I need ya” Morrissey declares on “My Love I’d Do Anything For You”, the opening salvo from his 11th solo album proper, Low in High School.

By Michael James Hall / 09 NOVEMBER 2017, 12:49 GMT


With chest-bursting drums and a salacious guitar vamp, recalling “Glamorous Glue” from 1992’s Your Arsenal, the record swaggers into life; squalling, savage noise giving way to bold horns and disembodied, disquieting shouts.

While it may be easy to read that quietly smug couplet as a message to wavering fans, this is not a record constructed as any kind of sop to the insanely dedicated following Morrissey has crafted over the last four decades. It is, in fact, much like its predecessor, 2014’s World Peace is None of Your Business, a sonically adventurous, ambitiously choreographed record that, to these ears, appears to centre around a couple of key, if unusual, themes.

“Home is a Question Mark”, boasts the immeasurably questionable, telling lyric “I have been brave / Deep in every shaven cave”, yet builds, (courtesy of co-writer and bassist Mando Lopez) with rising strings to a swoon-inducing crescendo - “If I ever get there, will you meet me? / Will you wrap your legs around my head to greet me?”. Morrissey’s voice is powerful, almost overwhelming as he proffers the first taste of physicality that defines the record.

Later, on “In Your Lap”, a spare and touching piano ballad that somehow recalls 1991’s “I’ve Changed My Plea to Guilty”, Gustavo Manzur’s intuitive playing supports an empowering, insightful and darkly comic lyric from Morrissey. Lines like “They tried to wipe us clean off the map / And I just want my face in your lap” lead to its final moments which list the horrors of war and oppression and cast them against the primal power of human connection. It’s an album that yearns for tender touch in the face of cataclysmic horror.

That theme is expanded on the blurred, near-Britpop radio buzz of “All the Young People Must Fall in Love”, where nuclear atrocity and human incineration are contrasted with lines like “The kids around here have the best idea / They say Presidents come. Presidents go” and “To watch or to be, it’s up to you”, all garnished with handclaps and comic chorus horns - it’s a hopeful, humorous celebration of simple human interaction that the Morrissey of, say, “Will Never Marry” almost thirty years ago might find disdainful.

Further augmenting this festival of the physical is “When You Open Your Legs”, a Middle-Eastern influenced cabaret number in which a great-big-bag-of-cans Mozza croons “It’s 4am and once again I’m asked to leave this club in Tel Aviv” and observes that “Everything I know deserts me now / When you open your legs”, dismissing the intellectual in favour of the lustful with an indelible chorus swoop perfectly treated by returning producer Joe Chiccarelli (whose work here, as on World Peace…, is precise, yet eccentric and endlessly interesting).

Of course, Morrissey has played with notions of the sexual over the years, often to remarkable effect - everything from “Handsome Devil” to “Alsatian Cousin” deals in some level of coy allusion to sexual pleasure - but here we have him boldly stating his desires, aligning himself with our baser nature. Whether this is a sign of a lack of subtlety or a brave forward step is, of course, up for debate but that clash of the brutal and the human, the savage and the sensual is certainly compelling.

These matters aside there are moments here that are buoyed less by Morrissey’s insights and more by his excellent band; the irresistible quick-step shuffle from drummer Matt Walker and skip-stop keyboard part courtesy of Manzur on single “Spent the Day in Bed” allow the track to rise above a bland lyric; the simple synth stabs and stuttering hook of “I Wish You Lonely” serve to raise an otherwise generic swipe against authority to a more appreciable level.

Then there’s “Who Will Protect Us from the Police” - a bitter anti-cop song that either co-opts the justified hatred of the police force by those who have been murdered and demeaned by them or highlights and supports all those who experience that type of despicable repression and attack. It’s very hard to tell which - but as Morrissey intones the word “Venezuela” across the song’s climax we at least get the idea that he’s pointing at the election conflicts that occurred there earlier this year and offering a token of acknowledgement. What use that is? It's open to conjecture. As it stands, it follows a long line of rants against those in power that may have begun as early as “Barbarism Begins At Home” and shows no sign of slowing down.

There is a serious mis-step on the epic, seven and a half minute “I Bury the Living” with Morrissey bellowing “You can’t blame me, I’m just an innocent soldier / There would be no war if not for me” and the remarkably wrongheaded “Gimme an order, I’ll blow up a border / Gimme an order, I’ll blow up your daughter” in some misguided attempt to remove the blame of war from government and place it squarely on the shoulders of soldiers. It’s genuinely baffling, especially in light of the tone of the album. Happily, in the latter section, with Morrissey repeating the lines “It’s funny how the war goes on / Without our John” over a simply gorgeous, moving guitar line from stalwart Boz Boorer, we are reminded of a more sympathetic, feeling songwriter - one much like the Morrissey many of us elect to remember.

With “The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel” we have one of three songs set in or concerning Israel (along with the aforementioned ‘When You Open Your Legs’ and the, er, about-to-be-mentioned “Israel”)— this one with a “Sing Your Life” shuffle and a strongly feminist bent but not much of a melody to hang it all on. Taking its title from the stage play of the same name which in turn was based on the diaries of Etty Hillesum whose life was taken in Auschwitz, it’s dark, certainly, but also engenders a spirit of rebellion and defiance.

On closer “Israel”, a title that in itself seems to stir controversy, Morrissey glorifies the people and state of Israel while maintaining the stance offered by other artists who choose to act in defiance of the cultural ban - “I can’t answer for what armies do / They are not you” and pouring adoration with “They who rain abuse upon you / They are jealous of you as well / Love yourself as you should, Israel.” Of course, Morrissey was awarded the keys to the capital city of Tel Aviv back in 2012 and, alongside the likes of Radiohead, Nick Cave and Jerry Seinfeld has performed there on several occasions. This approach then, isn’t surprising - it’s simply worth noting that it will, without doubt, be inflammatory for many, offensive for some.

Morrissey’s voice is at times remarkable here; his sense of melody finely tuned but more inclined to passing moments of beauty than the broad sweep of hits like “Suedehead” or “Irish Blood, English Heart”; the ingenuity of his band and producer is exceptional; there is an intellect and an intuitiveness to almost the whole record that resonates more and more deeply with each listen. While there are certainly moments where seemingly incomprehensible lyrical and thematic choices are made, there are many more where there’s a sense of communion and comradeship.

Society, as it stands, may well be hell. That’s a very fair observation. But as for us needing him like he needs us? On the basis of this record alone one is inclined to agree - with some occasional and strong reservations."

https://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/morrissey-low-in-high-school
 
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marred

Member
Arguably no, Vauxhall comes closest but I'm gonna be honest, I love them for their imperfections.
I wouldn't remove I'm Not Sorry, Kick The Bride Down The Aisle or even Bengali, those imperfections make these records what they are and make the stronger parts seem even stronger.
The guy is complicated and I like how that is conveyed in every record.
Yeah I'd agree with Vauxhall. Viva Hate (Education In Reverse) is close to perfection. I'm Not Sorry happens to be the song I like the least on YOR. But Kick The Bride Down The Aisle and Bengali are two of my favourites so you can never tell.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Yeah I'd agree with Vauxhall. Viva Hate (Education In Reverse) is close to perfection. I'm Not Sorry happens to be the song I like the least on YOR. But Kick The Bride Down The Aisle and Bengali are two of my favourites so you can never tell.

In terms of scores, for me anyhow we're looking at this for me:
VH: 7.5
KU: 6
YA: 8.5
VAI: 9
SG: 6.5
M: 6
YATQ: 7.5
ROT: 8.5
YOR: 8
WPINOYB: 7.8

Just writing those scores made me realise how much I love Ringleader! That trio of tracks The Father Who Must Be Killed, Life Is A Pigsty and I'll Never Be Anybodys Hero Now are as good as he gets IMO.
 

bhops

Last of the famous international screw ups.
I really love positive reviews like this one because you know there is a very slim chance Uncle Skinny will pop up in the thread :lbf::lbf:
 

A scanty bit of thing

I only have eyes for youuuuuu, Aztec!
I really love positive reviews like this one because you know there is a very slim chance Uncle Skinny will pop up in the thread :lbf::lbf:
This is absolutely not apropos of your comment above, but you know what they say, no time like the present to share some good cheer (or whatever)! So I just wanted to say, I know you never come to kick it with anyone in off-topic, but just fyi so that you know! It was previously discussed and unanimously agreed upon that if I was ever gonna have this really smoking hot party with hot jamz and with super large screens showing Michael Jackson doing all his hot robot moves, you would DEF be on my guestlist, bhops!! I just hope you like to dance :thumb:
 
0

001

Guest
This is absolutely not apropos of your comment above, but you know what they say, no time like the present to share some good cheer (or whatever)! So I just wanted to say, I know you never come to kick it with anyone in off-topic, but just fyi so that you know! It was previously discussed and unanimously agreed upon that if I was ever gonna have this really smoking hot party with hot jamz and with super large screens showing Michael Jackson doing all his hot robot moves, you would DEF be on my guestlist, bhops!! I just hope you like to dance :thumb:

Oi! Quit your pimping ways!
 

King Leer

Leering since '97
Seriously? It’s not a La cage aux folles reference or anything.
Showing my “printed media” age here, but: cage liner to catch bird shit. Not worthy of even that purpose.

Ya really think ya could slip somethin' tricky in didn't ya?
Just what exactly is bird cage worthy?
Who ya think ya foolin' noodle?[/QUO
 

The Wild Turkey

Wild T!
Turkerator
Seriously? It’s not a La cage aux folles reference or anything.
Showing my “printed media” age here, but: cage liner to catch bird shit. Not worthy of even that purpose.

Your suggestion for the use of the review was indeed funny, but sir
I'm afraid I can not condone the setting in which you choose to place it.
Turkeys only happy when it's out of the cage.
 

bhops

Last of the famous international screw ups.
This is absolutely not apropos of your comment above, but you know what they say, no time like the present to share some good cheer (or whatever)! So I just wanted to say, I know you never come to kick it with anyone in off-topic, but just fyi so that you know! It was previously discussed and unanimously agreed upon that if I was ever gonna have this really smoking hot party with hot jamz and with super large screens showing Michael Jackson doing all his hot robot moves, you would DEF be on my guestlist, bhops!! I just hope you like to dance :thumb:

Oh I'm in for damn sure!!!! I'll bring the chips and dip and a bottle of White Lightning (drink that and it's like you've been hit by lightning :lbf:)
 

gordyboy9

rip roaring,free scoring,never boring, celtic.
Arguably no, Vauxhall comes closest but I'm gonna be honest, I love them for their imperfections.
I wouldn't remove I'm Not Sorry, Kick The Bride Down The Aisle or even Bengali, those imperfections make these records what they are and make the stronger parts seem even stronger.
The guy is complicated and I like how that is conveyed in every record.
I love bengali,used to hate dykes but now I think its good,papa jack,have never gotten mountjoy although people seem to love it.
 

marred

Member
In terms of scores, for me anyhow we're looking at this for me:
VH: 7.5
KU: 6
YA: 8.5
VAI: 9
SG: 6.5
M: 6
YATQ: 7.5
ROT: 8.5
YOR: 8
WPINOYB: 7.8

Just writing those scores made me realise how much I love Ringleader! That trio of tracks The Father Who Must Be Killed, Life Is A Pigsty and I'll Never Be Anybodys Hero Now are as good as he gets IMO.
So there's two of us who love The Father Who Must Be Killed? What's with 7.8 for WP? That's very specific down to the minute detail.
 

butley

Well-Known Member
So there's two of us who love The Father Who Must Be Killed? What's with 7.8 for WP? That's very specific down to the minute detail.

I love The Father Who Must Be Killed a great deal and find Vauxhall and I quite dull. Southpaw Grammar is my least favourite though by mikes. I think World Peace Is None of Your Business is my favourite. The production on Morrissey's voice is wonderful and the production overall is very thrilling.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
So there's two of us who love The Father Who Must Be Killed? What's with 7.8 for WP? That's very specific down to the minute detail.

Oh yeah, everything from the kids to the 'birds fly high' line just tick all the right boxes. I'm even a fan of how Visconti mixed/recorded his vocals. A really ballsy move making them appear that thin and vulnerable. A move that paid off in spades IMO.

Haha, I just couldn't place WP on the same level as YOR (another underrated one I love), but I definitely think that as an album it flows far better than Quarry and maybe even Viva Hate as well. Not to say the material is better than anything on those two but I think the album is crafted more coherently with a clear beginning, middle and end.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
I love bengali,used to hate dykes but now I think its good,papa jack,have never gotten mountjoy although people seem to love it.

Likewise on Mountjoy, not really my cup of tea but a lot of people rate it very highly. The lyrics are at the better end of the spectrum for WP though.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
I love The Father Who Must Be Killed a great deal and find Vauxhall and I quite dull. Southpaw Grammar is my least favourite though by mikes. I think World Peace Is None of Your Business is my favourite. The production on Morrissey's voice is wonderful and the production overall is very thrilling.

Wow, it's refreshing to hear someone say WP is there favourite. You'll probably get a lot out of the new tracks, what do you think so far out of interest?
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Are any Morrissey albums perfect? I'm interested to hear your opinion. I love World Peace... but not every song.
. My opinion is that WPINOYB is a solid 8.1/10 if you get rid of some of the standard release rock songs and replace them with the bonus tracks. I've found Morrissey solo to be patchy compared to the absolute glory of the Smiths - normally I like about half of the songs on each solo release give or take. You are the Quarry is his most consistent if you ask me though I very much love big parts of VH, YA and VAI.
 
M

Michael James Hall

Guest
Hi,
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
To clarify: I didn't award the 7/10 mark, as I didn't award the 9.5 mark for World Peace as I recall - I tend to submit my reviews and allow the editorial team to allocate a number.
Regarding 'I Bury The Living' - I may well have missed the point on that one and misunderstood the intention of the lyric - it's just how I interpreted it based on a number of listens.
Thanks again for the kind words.
Michael
 

Famous when dead

Vulgarian
Moderator
Hi,
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
To clarify: I didn't award the 7/10 mark, as I didn't award the 9.5 mark for World Peace as I recall - I tend to submit my reviews and allow the editorial team to allocate a number.
Regarding 'I Bury The Living' - I may well have missed the point on that one and misunderstood the intention of the lyric - it's just how I interpreted it based on a number of listens.
Thanks again for the kind words.
Michael
You get kudos from me for actually engaging with the album.
I am convinced other reviewers just copied lyric bites and production assessments from each other as I'm sure there are other couplets to regurgitate than ones already heard.
So thank you and thanks for clarifying the scoring.
So I guess I should ask:
What would you have scored it yourself?
Regards,
FWD.
 
0

001

Guest
Hi,
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
To clarify: I didn't award the 7/10 mark, as I didn't award the 9.5 mark for World Peace as I recall - I tend to submit my reviews and allow the editorial team to allocate a number.
Regarding 'I Bury The Living' - I may well have missed the point on that one and misunderstood the intention of the lyric - it's just how I interpreted it based on a number of listens.
Thanks again for the kind words.
Michael

Thanks for posting that Michael!
 
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