Morrissey has a new album, Low In High School. What difference does it make?
Morrissey has a new album, Low In High School. What difference does it make, asks former Moz apologist and fan Barry Egan
Morrissey is the 58-year-old man with the thorn in his side. A very big thorn. Vladimir says to Estragon in Waiting for Godot: "No one ever suffers but you." Vladimir might, of course, have been talking about Morrissey. After a while, though, it becomes slightly tedious.
Hard to believe that The Smiths, his former band of some repute, split as long ago as 1987. Even harder to believe what a far from charming man he has become in the years between, while still remaining good copy for the media. "As philosophical alt-rock stand-up goes, the man is still peerless," noted Rolling Stone in its review of Morrissey's new album, Low In High School.
His withering misanthropy is not as funny as it used to be. In fact, his bitter, often laboured, cynicism is not exactly Wildean any more. More Nigel Farage-ean.
More to the point, the contrarian who waxes lyrical about loony tunes Farage and Marine Le Pen, defends Harvey Weinstein, blames the barbaric attack at the Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena on Theresa May's immigration policies and so on and so forth - to say nothing of him disgustingly telling The Guardian in 2010: "You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies" - is alienating people from his music.
He has become dull and predictable. Morrissey telling the German newspaper Der Spiegel that he would kill American President Donald Trump "for the sake of humanity" is hardly up there with his singing in 1988 about a certain divisive blonde: "the kind people have a wonderful dream/ Margaret on the guillotine".
(Indeed, Morrissey wrote in his 2013 autobiography, Autobiography, about the song, that the Special Branch questioned him, "so that they might gauge whether or not I pose a security threat to Margaret Thatcher".)
And so to his 11th solo album. As Ryan Gilbey put it in a column in the New Statesman in 2013: "It saddens me to say it, but my love affair with Mozza is well and truly over."
Gilbey added, importantly, that this confers on "me no particular distinction. 'I Was a Teenage Morrissey fan' is a revelation to file alongside other popular adolescent confessions such as 'I was insufferably pretentious' and 'I had acne'." Low in High School, the follow-up to his 2014 album World Peace Is None of Your Business, is far from his greatest solo album; I plump for 1992's glam fest Your Arsenal.
"Society's hell," he moans on My Love, I'd Do Anything for You, a track that could have been taken from Your Arsenal. This from the man who sang on Nowhere Fast (from Meat Is Murder) in 1985: "And when I'm lying in my bed/ I think about life / And I think about death/ And neither one particularly appeals to me."
On In Your Lap, he sings as perhaps only he can: "They tried to wipe us clean off the map/And I just want my face in your lap." The Girl From Tel Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel - where Morrissey references the theatrical production of the same name which is based around the diaries of Etty Hillesum, who was murdered in Auschwitz on November 30, 1943, at the age of 29 - is well worth a listen.
I prefer Morrissey when he is writing about himself, being the neurotic outsider riddled with introspection and self-loathing. I don't listen to a Morrissey album to hear his views on the Middle East. He wrote revealingly - because he said something about his own creative process - in his memoir of A.E. Housman: "I ask myself if there is an irresponsible aspect in relaying thoughts of pain as inspiration, and I wonder whether Housman actually infected the sensitives further, and pulled them back into additional darkness."
Morrissey should return to the darkness of his mind and leave behind the Dark Ages of his politics.