UNITED STATES—”No Man is an Island” recited English poet John Donne. Clearly, he never met Morrissey.
Across 11 studio albums both alone and as frontman of The Smiths, you might think the charming man from Manchester would have said all he had to say about loneliness. You’d be wrong. Low in High School shows that Steven Patrick Morrissey is as bitter and simultaneously attention-seeking and isolationist as ever. Opening track “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You” presents this point clearly in the lines where melancholy as always, Morrisey states that “society’s hell” and “the more I wish…for someone, the less likely they come.”
Which is not to say the album is bad or that Morrissey is growing stale, neither is necessarily true. “Low in High School” has both weak and strong moments and Morrissey isn’t yet as boring he could be thanks, in part, to his conviction in oft-controversial political stances and his tendency to be effortlessly brash.
Songs like “I Wish You Lonely” (the first single released from the album) and “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on Stage,” highlight Moz’s ever-present feelings of inadequacy and a self-admitted inclination to wishing everyone around him felt worse rather than undergo any meaningful attempts to improve himself. The tracks, “Home is a Question Mark” and “Spent the Day in Bed” both sound good and feature Morrissey’s legendary singing prowess proving itself once more. The former is probably the best song on the album; Moz’s voice flows effortless along a backing melody that is both lilting and confident.
“I Bury the Living” is a track where a major tonal shift in the album takes place. The album becomes less internally focused and turns more toward extolling the external forces Morrissey finds distasteful. Unfortunately, after this tune (wherein Morrissey gets to play with a surprisingly riveting falsetto) the quality of the record also drops off.
“In Your Lap” and “The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel” are both lyrically uninspired (by Smiths standards) and musically dull with mediocre piano interludes filling the blank space. In them, Moz offers disappointingly simplistic notions about sex and war. Following song, “All the Young People Must Fall in Love” is actually the high point of the second half of the album. A tambourine dances around the edges of a stomp-clap rhythm accompanied by a horn, bass guitars, and a xylophone. Despite seeming like it would be otherwise, the competing instruments all find their place. And, despite Morrissey’s dour intonation, the lyrics that all the “young people” will fall in love (himself certainly include in their ranks) are some of the most cheerful on the album.
“When You Open Your Legs” possesses a Latin Ballad’s flair similar –though more dynamic- to the one found in “Girl from Tel-Aviv.” The guitar noodling that weaves in and out of the song could stand to go on longer, however. Unfortunately, neither of the album’s final two songs are very enjoyable. “Who Will Protect Us from the Police” is discordant and chaotic and, as much as that may be the point, it’s not very pleasing to the ear. The lyrics, do, however, reveal a bit more about Morrissey’s thought processes, namely his paranoia that he lives in a world where governments are actively conspiring against you (read: him).
The last song on the album “Israel” is no doubt a love letter to a country held in high esteem by the singer. Morrissey’s affections for the nation-state have been well documented over the course of the multiple concerts he’s hosted there. One reason for this mutually admiring relationship may be the statuses of both man and country: geographic islands surrounded by an (oft-times) hostile world. One then wonders if, in the song, when Morrissey intones that “they who reign abuse on upon you/they are jealous of you as well” he’s not speaking to himself.