On the November 16th episode of Sarah Silverman’s new Hulu show, I Love You, America, the actress and comedian inserted a monologue prior to the opening that addressed her friend, and fellow comedian, Louis C.K’s career-long string of masturbatory assaults. Why is this fact opening a Morrissey review, you ask? Well, because during Silverman’s monologue, she posed the question: “Can you love someone who did bad things?” And we’re now in a position to ask ourselves that same question when it comes to Morrissey, who, in a recent interview with Germany’s Spiegel Online, defended Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein by basically laying blame for their own recent assaults against women and men on the victims.
“Anyone who has ever said to someone else, ‘I like you,’ is suddenly being charged with sexual harassment,” says Morrissey in this interview the very week his new album, Low in High School, is released. The timing here is, uh, bad, and it forces us to ask ourselves if we can love a body of work while separating it from the apparent shit head who made it. In the case of this new release, which marks the 11th of his solo career, it’s not of any sort of caliber in which to aide in the forgiveness of prior transgressions, that’s for sure. It might actually be the, Okay, We’ve Had Enough Album. But it’s also pretty damn good. Almost regrettably so.
It’s hard to look down one’s nose at Morrissey because, for the most part, the music he’s put out during his days with The Smiths, and under his own name, has been superior. The problem that ended up kicking off a wide variety of other problems, is that he very much knows this and has developed a way of behaving over the years that makes his music less easy to enjoy. It’s often a point of debate in art criticism as to whether or not the artist’s personal life should be so closely tied to reviews of their work and, for me, I just don’t see how it can’t be. How can you consume a thing without taking into consideration the person who made it? It’s a huge factor.
Over the years, Morrissey has made a reputation for himself as being a pompous canceler of shows, a stink slinger to fellow musicians, and now a victim blamer. For Christ’s sake, he even found a way to blame Beyoncé for the near-extinction of the rhinoceros. Face it, Morrissey is a dick, and there was a time that his music made us forgive him for that, but it seems those days are over. They’re over for a lot of people. It’s been a long time coming, which once again, begs the big ol’ question: Do we still love his albums? That’s a difficult question.
If you were never a fan of Morrissey, then, yeah, fuck this album, and fuck him too. But, if you’ve loved his music since The Smiths, and their music actually brings you joy, well, then there are things to be found on Low in High School that could possibly, maybe, present a solid argument for attempting to find a way to suck the goodness from this album … while spitting out the pulp that is Morrissey himself. After all, he’s a huge butthole, but maybe we can be satisfied with his rose-smelling shit, if only because we deserve our small pleasures despite their origins. Or, we could just flush it all, if that’s what feels right to you. Hey, 2017 has a whole new set of standards and practices now that we’re, on a daily basis, made to grapple with the fact that everyone we love is an actual monster. Shit. It’s all shit. We’re doomed.
As he’s wont to do, Morrissey is fantastic at a lot of things and yet also lazy and careless AF. Case in point: “Spent the Day in Bed”. The first single off Low in High School is an overcooked clump of wet noodles, covering up a few actually tasty meatballs (sorry, tofu balls) smothered beneath. This isn’t the track that should have been picked to launch this album cycle. Besides, how excited can a person possibly get by hearing a 58-year old man sing about how he loves his bed while warning us to stop watching the news?
Judging by that song alone, mixed with his latest foot in mouth parade, it would be more than easy to throw this album in the trash and be done with him forever. But then you get to “Home Is a Question Mark”, which soars like Morrissey of days long gone, a truly full and beautiful number, showcasing his ability to sing like the hell he’d gladly usher us all towards. When he croons, “I have seen many shores/ I hug the land but nothing more/ Because I haven’t met you/ I have wined and I have dined/ With everybody bogus music mogul/ No sign of you,” real life, and real emotion, comes forward. You can hear it in his voice. It’s songs like this that make Morrissey so hard not to love. Kinda like your drunk uncle on Thanksgiving who makes racist/sexist/homophobic jokes, but then surprises you with a case of your favorite wine and turns on Uncle Buck just for you.
Yay, drunk uncle! Viva La Morrissey!
But, lest we forget “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You”. The opening track starts strong with rattling drums and intriguing horns, only it sounds phoned in. You’ll notice this all throughout the album, as though Morrissey inserted as many new bells and whistles as possible so he could simply lean against the railing. Sure, it all sounds Morrissey-esque … yet like a Morrissey album that came from a producer pushing a big red button marked, “MORRISSEY ALBUM EFFECT,” on a sound board.
Fortunately, our Ibuprofen kicks in as “I Bury the Living” gets the blood pumping in a pretty clear “Fuck All Government” kind of way. “And with the grace of God/ I will die in my own bed/ If you wonder what’s in my head/ It’s just the hatred for all human life,” Morrissey sings, reminding us that in our heart of hearts we always knew that Morrissey was a douche bag, and we’ve loved him anyway up until now, if we loved him at all. Is that all going to change? Should that change? Probably. And yet … we can’t help but keep listening.
“All the Young People”, a hand-clappy sing-a-long edges towards the end of the album and is good to end with here, if we’re in the market to root for a happy ending for Morrissey, which we’re still not sure if we are, but here we are. We’re asked a question here in the lyrics: “Presidents come, presidents go/ And oh look at the damage they do/ All the young people they must fall in love/ So what do you want to do?/ It’s up to you.”
Well, what are we gonna do?
Essential Tracks: “Home Is a Question Mark”, “I Bury the Living”, and “All the Young People Must Fall in Love”