This week’s Spotify Throwback Thursday has a sting in its tail. We recently said Roxy Music was a great summer album. It is, but we’ve unearthed an absolute gem to sit alongside it. We’re going to highlight a band that only lasted two albums in the early 90’s, but managed to craft two timeless packages of power pop that still sounds timeless but…you’ve probably never heard of. Listeners, we present to you Jellyfish – Bellybutton.
If you like your pop supremely well-crafted–well-produced but not saccharine sweet, lyrics that have conviction and strength but are sung sweetly and harmoniously with choruses to sing along to, then San Francisco’s Jellyfish will be swimming around your musical cortex long after a first listen. Maybe it’s the context. They were around at the time of the start of MTV. The musical landscape included grunge, golden-era hip hop, the rise of dance music and rock behemoths that were hanging on through the decades. It was a rich time for musical creativity and anything went.
What Jellyfish did was take power pop as a starting point, mix in a carefully selected mix of influences (Queen, Beach Boys and Beatles) and present something quite unique. The album was produced by Albhy Galuten (also an inventor! – noted for creating the first commercial drum loop on Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees) and Jack Joseph Puig – worked with Hole, The Black Crowes, Weezer, Green Day, Counting Crows, No Doubt, Klaxons, U2 and many more!). They have the lyrical prowess of XTC, Elvis Costello and Squeeze and throw in the occasional eccentric flourish akin to classic British pysch and folk. Around the same time, another singer-songwriter in the same vein was starting out (Ben Folds). Later (2007) McFly covered ‘Baby’s coming back’. An esoteric choice, but a brave one. Especially if you listen to the lyrics closely. It’s like sour tasting bubblegum.
Lyrically, the album is a masterful set of tunes that subtly hit below the emotional belt due to its heartfelt storytelling and subject matters. Domestic abuse, couples drifting apart (‘She still loves him’ – ‘All he wanted to be, was as happy as couple number 3 on the favourite game show’), alcoholism (Baby’s coming back – ‘I can’t take it anymore, I just woke up on the floor, today yeaaah’) are all sung by Andy Sturmer (lead and backing vocals, drums, guitar, keyboards) with a sweet voice that’s underpinned by the requisite rock growl when necessary.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (keyboards, piano, harpsichord, vocals) tinkles the keys, added a cosmic, jazzy element at times, and bass duties were shared by Jason Falkner (guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Chris Manning. Melodic basslines carry the tunes blinking into the sunshine. The King is half undressed was nominated for Best Art Direction at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards and perfectly sums up their aesthetic, and gives an insight into where they were. They may have looked like a hippy dippy 60’s sell-out band, but again, it’s the influences and lyrics that elevate them from mere parodists.
There’s strings, sitars, harpsichord, harmonies, Beatles and Beach Boys stamps all over it, and straight up pop punk, hand claps (‘Baby’s coming back’) and a great guitar solo (‘Calling Sarah’) all jostling for attention in their slick sound. We urge you to invest 39 minutes and 32 seconds and listen to it. If you like it, the back cat won’t be hard to digest. They may have disbanded a long time ago, but a new fan is still a new fan.
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