By Liam Quinn, E23 Reporter  

Photo of Morrissey

Morrissey, whose birth name is Steven Patrick Morrissey, is a 58-year-old singer and frontman of The Smiths (Source: Wikimedia).

When I got to college, I decided to give The Smiths a listen. Formed in 1982 in Manchester, the group is credited as a pioneer of alternative rock. I fell in love with their unique sound and in many ways, their music changed the way I look at life. Yes, most of the lyrics refer to feeling alone and depressed, but the music itself sounds upbeat and is easily palatable. The Smiths helped me realize that it was OK to want to be alone sometimes, and they could be turned to when having a bad day. Now they are easily one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, bands of all time.

The Smiths broke up in 1987 without truly achieving mainstream success. Each member went on to different things, occasionally working with each other until lawsuits in the mid-90s saw them sever their ties for the most part.

The Smith with the most successful solo career is Morrissey, the band’s lyricist and frontman. It is his lyrics that soundtrack my life. Born Steven Patrick Morrissey, he dropped his first two names in favor of his last as he became famous. Apart from the Smiths, I am a big fan of Morrissey’s early solo work. Albums like “Viva Hate” and “Vauxhall and I” are tremendous records that I regard pretty much as highly as any of his solo work with The Smiths.

Morrissey has continued to release music well into the 21st century, though the quality of the music has certainly dipped in recent years, culminating with 2014’s “World Peace Is None of Your Business” which was almost universally panned.

His latest release is “Low in High School,” his eleventh studio album. The cover of this album features a boy holding a hatchet with a sign reading “Axe the Monarchy,” in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace. Despite the artwork looking like it was designed by an amateur graphic artist, it very much reflects Morrissey’s long-held anti-monarchical sentiment. Seeing this gave me some hope that “Low” could be somewhat of a return to form for Moz. (The Smiths’ and Morrissey’s magnum opus is titled “The Queen is Dead.”)

The singles that were released were decent, with one (“Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On Stage”) being a particular standout. However, upon listening to the whole album, I found myself disappointed in a man who I once considered one of my idols.

“Low in High School” is overtly political, which I definitely do not have an issue with. However, the problem is not the fact that he is political, but rather the politics themselves. Now, you could say I don’t like the album just because I disagree with its politics. But the fact is, his observations on the world and the politics engulfing it are either oversimplified or simply do not offer any new insights.

Morrissey’s best work is often about himself and acknowledging some of his shortcomings. In classic tunes like “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “I Know It’s Over,” Morrissey is the victim of many of his own criticisms. Two of the best songs on “Low in High School,” “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On Stage” and “When You Open Your Legs,” feature Morrissey once again taking subtle shots at himself. On these tracks, he is playing to his strengths. Unfortunately, on this album, he tries to break out of his comfort zone to little success.

The album offers a somewhat new sound for Morrissey. It has a much more electronic feel to it and keyboards play a key role on this record. Morrissey’s band and producer Joe Chiccarelli did an excellent job. It is certainly a departure from classic Morrissey, but it works. The instrumentals were not the issue with “Low.”  Unfortunately, it was the lyrics that brought this album down, which is somewhat sad given that used to be Morrissey’s ultimate strength.

The worst song on “Low in High School” is “Israel.” The track is a nearly six-minute-long ballad where Morrissey declares his admiration for the titular nation. The biggest problem with this song comes when the singer chalks up criticism of Israel to jealousy. Regardless of how one feels about the situation in Israel, it is a gross oversimplification of a serious and complex issue. The song is borderline unlistenable.

Morrissey has written some of the greatest songs about the human condition. On “Low in High School,” he deviates from that format. The song “Who Will Protect Us from the Police?” is not a bad song and it asks a pertinent question regarding police brutality. However, he doesn’t really come up with much more analysis than that. Just that the police are dangerous. While I agree with many of the points introduced in this song, I was disappointed that he did not delve further into them.

He does this again on “The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel.” On this song, he says that wars are fought over oil and that bombing other countries has become the American way. These statements are not necessarily incorrect, but they aren’t new claims. Morrissey doesn’t add anything new to this idea with the song. Gone are the subtleties that he championed in his earlier days and what made his early work so great. It was things like this that really hindered “Low in High School” from living up to the ambition that Morrissey put into the album.

Overall, the album isn’t terrible, but songs like “Israel” really detract from the whole. The album, like the artist himself, will likely disappoint fans. Over the past week, Morrissey has made headlines, but not because of his new album. The Mancunian received backlash when he was quoted defending Kevin Spacey, who was recently accused of sexual misconduct by former coworkers, one of whom was a minor at the time.

This comes after a string of controversial statements made by the singer over the past few years. One in particular was when he praised British politician Nigel Farage who is seen by many as anti-Muslim and xenophobic. Seeing Morrissey defend the likes of Spacey and Farage has surely left some Morrissey and Smiths fans feeling betrayed as these new statements are contrary to the ethos of many of those fans. I myself was ready to, and probably still should, call it quits on the former Smith; however, months ago I had bought tickets to see him in concert and decided I would still go.

Despite my reservations and the fact that I don’t think highly of Morrissey the man anymore, I can’t deny the fact that he puts on a good show. I found myself singing along to every song and was lost in the music. His onstage presence was energetic even at the age of 58. They say you should separate the art from the artist, but I was never a proponent of that. Yet, here I was swaying and singing to “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” songs that I love so much. It may make me a hypocrite and less of a good person, but I must say I had a great time at the show.

Despite the fact that I didn’t like his album and that his statements have been unconscionable, I just can’t quit the man. Maybe I am a bad person for it, but I suppose it is hard to mute the soundtrack of your life.

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