During his time in The Smiths and beyond, Morrissey was given nicknames such as “The King of Mope,” and “Mr. Depressing.” What some people fail to realize is the literary way Morrissey catalogs his observations of modern life. “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On the Stage,” is the newest single from Morrissey’s album, “Low in High School.” The song displays Morrissey’s wit and generous thoughts about a woman who isn’t dealing well with a breakup.
Morrissey’s cast of characters
The eponymous “Jacky” is not the only character to come to life as a result of Morrissey’s vivid rendering. Not counting the Queen that featured so heavily in his work with The Smiths, Jacky comes three decades after Sheila, William, She (of “What She Said”), Handsome Devil, Sir (of “Headmaster Ritual”) and at least two decades after Girl (of “Girl Least Likely To”). In short, Morrissey has no problem creating “characters” and depositing them in a song.
As a person who has read nearly every (or possibly every) Morrissey biography, and autobiography, not to mention articles in magazines like Mojo, I learned years ago about Morrissey’s early intent to be a writer. But the allure of pop stardom might have been too tempting to pass up. Certainly, it beat toiling over a typewriter. Still, Morrissey’s ability to make people fit for songs. The same has been done with Jacky. Jacky only feels like herself when she is dancing, presumably in a club like the people in the video. Jacky has to throw herself into things like this because the pain of the breakup is too great. She is the kind of person Morrissey knows well and paints deftly.
“Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” and Morrissey’s video
Even the song’s title seems almost too long to be a song title. Yes, technically there are no rules, but there are expectations. Actually, at this point, anyone who knows anything about Morrissey might expect such a title. But what is most remarkable about the song is the video.
For some, the song’s lyrics are political, although Morrissey has insisted in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that they are not. “That is the idiocy I have to live with…” the singer has famously retorted.
So, removing potential politics out of it, Jacky still has difficulties. The song is more easily read as being about a person.
The video appears to take place on the set of a dance show, or club. Dancers coupled in the background wear clothing from the 1960s and dance to Morrissey’s song. They are lit with pale light behind them. The dancers manage to stay on beat with the song, which can’t be said really of the male dancers who attempt to accompany Morrissey’s swinging arms and twisting torso. His clothing choice of suit plus jewelry and minus shirt is an interesting one. Morrissey’s “dancers” must be there for comedy’s sake. They are dressed in light blue satin track suits, but they also wear the black Oxfords favored by Morrissey.
There is no identifiable Jacky in the video. Everyone dances to the song about her and she is nowhere to be found. Most people won’t notice until the song is over.
The song does discuss how Jacky does not thrive without the lights and attention. She suffers from “sexual neglect.” The song has two choruses, each beginning with the line “She is determined to prove…” and in the first chorus, the second line is “how she can build up the pain” and in the second, “how she can fill up the page.” There are no easy rhymes.
Numerous other songwriters would have rhymed “prove” with “move” but it doesn’t happen here. Anyone who has listened to pop music for more than a year will brace themselves for expected rhymes and will find themselves disappointed.
In terms of sound, “Jacky” opens with staccato, rock-oriented drums. The drums lay a solid foundation that the groove of the song eventually rests on. The guitar smears heavily through and makes the dancers’ 1960’s moves appropriate. Like a number of Smiths’ songs, toward the end, the guitar gets heavier and moodier. Also, the dancers begin to move more freely, as does Morrissey.
“Jacky’s Only Happy Up On the Stage” sounds right for Morrissey in this stage of his career. He is not here for easy answers or common observations. The soundscape is mid-tempo and pensive, which, again, is a kind of Morrissey’s trademark. In all, if they haven’t done so already, Morrissey fans should be tempted to get “Low in High School” on the strength of this song and the first single.