Jellyfish – Fan Club

Jellyfish is a star that burned brightly but too briefly in the power pop firmament, blasting itself to bits in a kind of dull supernova of creative differences after only two albums. To say that those two albums have attracted a following would be something of a massive understatement: there’s actually a tribute album out, and even brief association with Jellyfish has made cult rock heroes out of musicians like Jason Falkner, Roger Manning and Tim Smith. For music fans who missed the pop revolution of the 1970s, Jellyfish rolled almost all of that experience into those two albums, spruced up for the early ’90s. For a band with a legacy of two albums and a handful of B-sides, Jellyfish is cited as a seminal influence by an alarming number of artists these days.

In 2002, Not Lame Records assembled this box set – with label founder Bruce Brodeen putting his home on the line to pay for the licensing and duplication – featuring demos, rare tracks, and even live appearances. In the grand scheme of things, there’s precious little in the way of new music – in this context, meaning completely new songs – that fans haven’t heard before, but there’s still enough here to cover four discs.

The Bellybutton demos feature several songs that I hadn’t heard before, which simply didn’t make the cut for the band’s first album. While they’re not bad songs, they’re just not quite on the same level as “The King Is Half-Undressed” or “The Man I Used To Be”, including a very early version of “Bye Bye Bye” (which ended up on Spilt Milk) and a cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”, among other things.

Jumping ahead to the disc of Spilt Milk demos and outtakes, and other songs from the same era, it’s easy to tell that even the demos were so intricate and polished that they would’ve done many an artist proud as final mixes. Not so for Jellyfish, though – and one wonders if that quest for perfection (and the inevitable headaches that result from that quest) isn’t what drowned Jellyfish once and for all. There are numerous new songs on this disc as well, including a cluster of demos recorded of songs that Manning and Andy Sturmer penned for potential inclusion on a Ringo Starr solo album. They’re all good stuff, very well pitched to Ringo’s strengths and the styles he and his listeners are accustomed to, but they wouldn’t have been bad Jellyfish songs in their own right either – that, perhaps, being the no-lose propostion in cooking up a bunch of Ringo-esque/borderline-Beatlesque songs: whatever Ringo didn’t want was probably a likely candidate for the third album that never happened. The only song that seems like the odd man out from the “Ringo demos” is “Watchin’ The Rain”, a song which just never quite seems like something that either Ringo or Jellyfish would’ve done – a kind of nondescript ’80s-style ballad. On the opposite end of that spectrum is the dead-center perfect tribute to the Beatles that is “I Don’t Believe You”. If you didn’t know it was Jellyfish, you’d probably swear that it was some previously undiscovered tune by the Fab Four themselves.

B-sides as well as one-off soundtrack and compilation singles that were released between Bellybutton and Spilt Milk land on this disc as well, including the infamous Super Mario Bros.-themed “Ignorance Is Bliss”, originally released on 1991’s all-star Nintendo White-Knuckle Scorin’! album, back from the days when Nintendo was nearly eclipsing just about everything else on the pop culture scene. Unlike most artists who contibuted a single to that compilation, Jellyfish actually did their homework and delivered a song that’s literally about Super Mario – from King Koopa’s perspective! It’s destined to go down as a disposable novelty single, but it’s worth at least a couple of listens for the sheer musicality of it. Disposable novelty song or not, the group poured a lot of effort into it.

The live discs are a revelation, showing the sheer determination of the group to replicate their complex sound on stage. That they actually pull it off, more often than not, without significantly dumbing down the arrangements of either their own densely-orchestrated pieces or any number of cheekily chosen covers, is just this side of a miracle, again a testament to the combined musical skill of Jellyfish. The Spilt Milk live disc really shines, including a couple of demonstrations of an addition that the group made to the set list just for concerts in Japan. (It’s probably no surprise that Andy Sturmer, post-Jellyfish, went on to produce Puffy Amiyumi, and most of the former Jellyfishers’ solo and side projects have far, far less difficulty finding a label home in Japan than they do anywhere in the English-speaking world. Obviously they made their impact in Japan.) The last track on the last CD is the Jellyfish cover of “Think About Your Troubles”, the group’s 1994 contribution to a posthumous Harry Nilsson tribute album, and the last thing they recorded.

So what’s the sum total of these four discs of on-stage antics and in-studio rarities? If the two studio albums alone didn’t do it for you, Fan Club will finish the job of filling your ears with glee and filling your heart with melancholy that Jellyfish, as an entity whose whole was at least as great as the sum of its very 4 out of 4talented parts, didn’t continue. The demos and B-sides and other tracks, stuff that the band felt was not album material or single material, are – for the most part – better than a lot of stuff that other groups feel is album material or single material. Jellyfish wasn’t a band that could do no wrong, but in the space of two albums and at least any many years’ worth of touring, Jellyfish also hadn’t dropped anything lamentably bad in our ears. This was a group that burned bright and burned out fast, the only consolation being that its various members are still active turning out their own stellar pop music.

You Can't Order this CD

    Disc One: The Bellybutton Demos, 1988-89

  1. The Man I Used To Be (4:23)
  2. Bedspring Kiss (4:45)
  3. Deliver (3:07)
  4. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:15)
  5. Queen Of The USA (5:13)
  6. Always Be My Girl (3:36)
  7. I Wanna Stay Home (4:10)
  8. Let This Dream Never End (3:59)
  9. Season Of The Witch (4:22)
  10. That Girl’s A Man (3:42)
  11. Calling Sarah (4:48)
  12. All I Want Is Everything (3:12)
  13. Bye Bye Bye (3:48)
  14. She Still Loves Him (4:27)
  15. Baby’s Coming Back (2:53)
  16. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:40)
    Disc Two: The Bellybutton Tour, 1990-91

  1. MTV Top Of The Hour (0:20)
  2. Much Music, Canada (0:30)
  3. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:49)
  4. Sugar And Spice (2:14)
  5. 91X, San Diego (0:19)
  6. Two All-Beef Patties (0:15)
  7. Mr. Late (3:38)
  8. No Matter What (2:43)
  9. All I Want Is Everything (4:25)
  10. Much Music, Canada (1:07)
  11. Hold Your Head Up / Hello (5:24)
  12. Calling Sarah (4:06)
  13. She Still Loves Him (4:08)
  14. Will You Marry Me (6:41)
  15. Baby Come Back / Baby’s Coming Back (4:25)
  16. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:50)
  17. Let ‘Em In / That Is Why (5:12)
  18. Jet (3:18)
  19. Much Music, Canada (0:37)
  20. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:38)
  21. Baby’s Coming Back (2:57)
  22. I Wanna Stay Home (4:05)
  23. She Still Loves Him (3:51)
  24. All I Want Is Everything (4:24)
    Disc Three: The Spilt Milk Demos, 1991-92

  1. World Cafe (0:40)
  2. Spilt Milk Intro (0:44)
  3. Hush (1:18)
  4. Joining A Fan Club (3:45)
  5. Sabrina, Paste And Plato (2:11)
  6. New Mistake (4:05)
  7. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:02)
  8. The Ghost At Number One (3:25)
  9. All Is Forgiven (4:09)
  10. Russian Hill (4:43)
  11. He’s My Best Friend (3:42)
  12. Family Tree (4:00)
  13. Spilt Milk Outro (1:14)
  14. Ignorance Is Bliss (3:55)
  15. Worthless Heart (3:06)
  16. Watchin’ The Rain (4:11)
  17. I Need Love (3:09)
  18. I Don’t Believe You (3:21)
  19. Long Time Ago (3:47)
  20. Runnin’ For Our Lives (3:40)
  21. Fan Club message (6:02)
    Disc Four: The Spilt Milk Tour, 1993

  1. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:58)
  2. Baby’s Coming Back (3:01)
  3. That Is Why (3:30)
  4. The Ghost At Number One (3:29)
  5. Joining A Fan Club (2:51)
  6. World Cafe (1:09)
  7. I Can Hear The Grass Grow (3:26)
  8. New Mistake (4:03)
  9. Eleanor Rigby (1:35)
  10. S.O.S. (1:14)
  11. S.O.S. (2:08)
  12. All Is Forgiven (4:12)
  13. Sabrina, Paste And Plato (2:25)
  14. Joining A Fan Club (4:35)
  15. The Ghost At Number One (3:49)
  16. The Man I Used To Be (4:48)
  17. Glutton Of Sympathy (4:04)
  18. New Mistake (4:43)
  19. Think About Your Troubles / hidden track: The King Is Half-Undressed (11:00)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 62:20
Disc two total running time: 74:56
Disc three total running time: 69:09
Disc four total running time: 71:00

Jars Of Clay – Good Monsters

Jars Of Clay - Good MonstersAfter some sidesteps into rootsy country music influences, Jars Of Clay resumes their rock ‘n’ roll course with Good Monsters. Some country influences are still on display, but the past two albums’ flirtation with roots music really seemed to obscure what drew such an audience to the Jars in the first place: these guys can flat-out rock. The first single, “Dead Man (Carry Me)”, is one of the rockiest songs on the album, but it gives you a fair idea of what to expect here – decent, guitar-driven rock, maybe without leaning on studio technique as much as the group’s first two albums, strong vocals with great harmony work, and overall just a return to the group’s more familiar, catchy sound.

“Work” and “Dead Man” give things a fast-paced one-two punch of that return, and then things settle into a nice medium between the group’s rock sound and some of that recently-explored country/folk music territory, with “Good Monsters” and “Take Me Higher” being a couple more of the album’s strongest rock numbers. But while the music is good, the lyrics are outstanding. I have to single out “Work” especially, as it’s a very good example of why Jars Of Clay is one of the only Christian bands I listen to. The lyric “I have no fear of drowning / It’s the breathing that’s taking all this work” is emblematic of the group’s ability to lyrically address the fact that there is a struggle involved in being human and a there’s even a struggle involved in being a Christian – there are plenty of lyrics that address the “praise and worship” prerequisites of this genre of 4 out of 4music, but there are also plenty of mature lyrics like that one which acknowledge a struggle to stay on the straight and narrow. “Oh My God”‘s startling lyrical admission that “We all have a chance to murder” is another example of this (and it may in fact be the best song this band has ever done). That’s something that I don’t find nearly enough of in this genre of music – sort of like I can’t get enough Jars Of Clay. Highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Work (3:53)
  2. Dead Man (Carry Me) (3:19)
  3. All My Tears (3:45)
  4. Even Angels Cry (4:21)
  5. There Is A River (3:51)
  6. Good Monsters (4:05)
  7. Oh My God (6:05)
  8. Surprise (3:50)
  9. Take Me Higher (4:40)
  10. Mirrors & Smoke (3:58)
  11. Light Gives Heat (4:41)
  12. Water Under The Bridge (3:58)

Released by: Essential
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 50:26

Journey – Frontiers

Journey - FrontiersQuite possibly the first rock album to have a video game based on it (the arcade game Journey actually predates an Atari 2600 cartridge called Journey Escape by several months), Journey’s Frontiers is one of those pivotal, everybody-remembers-it, all-things-to-all-people albums of the 80s. On the good side, it’s got some of the group’s most memorable songs. On the downside, it takes us away from songs like “Lights” and starts Journey on its slippery downhill slope toward being yet another glam hair band.

“Send Her My Love” comes real close to being – for those of you familiar with Plato’s concept of the “perfect form” – the perfect form of the ’80s power ballad. Not the first one to come along by any means, but all the prerequisite elements are there. It’s a decent song, good lyrics, and all the while it’s riding on a chunky bed of distorted guitar that seems to constantly want to break into the searing solo that finally comes 2/3 of the way into the song – the quintessential Slow Song With Power Chords. Before Bon Jovi was riding a steel horse regardless of being dead or alive, I might add. “Faithfully” runs a close second and adds another traditional power ballad touch, the wordless vocal restatement of the main melody in place of an actual verse.

And of course, everyone’s heard – or, more likely, seen the then-omnipresent video to – “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”. That opening keyboard riff is about as ’80s as you can get. Play just that part of that song to someone over the age of 20, and chances are it’ll take ’em back to some kind of a memory of where and who they were at the time. This, too, is a decent song, but for my money, not as good as the hard rock anthem that 3 out of 4is “Chain Reaction”. Something about that song makes me want to get up and march, not dance.

Journey’s Frontiers wasn’t the band’s best album, but it was probably the most popular – and in those days, that consigned a group to repeating the formula ad nauseum. Just as it did here. Recommended, but not their best – stick around, and I’ll discuss Escape at a later date.

Order this CD

  1. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) (5:28)
  2. Send Her My Love (3:57)
  3. Chain Reaction (4:24)
  4. After The Fall (5:02)
  5. Faithfully (4:28)
  6. Edge Of The Blade (4:34)
  7. Troubled Child (4:31)
  8. Back Talk (3:20)
  9. Frontiers (4:12)
  10. Rubicon (4:18)

Released by: CBS
Release date: 1983
Total running time: 44:14

Jewel – 0304

Jewel - 0304Y’know, when she started out in the mid-1990s, I used to defend Jewel against the popular “Hippie Spice” insult that was often hurled her way, as I really liked that first album of hers, and even liked the second. A couple of years ago, I was a bit more ambivalent about her third album. And now?

Well…uh…I still really like her first album. 0304, on the other hand, spins her off in a completely different direction into a different style of music, and I’m not really sure it suits her …but hey, it’s her career. 0304 opens with “Stand”, sort of a middle-ground between her old, faux-folky lyrical style and her new musical style, as if this is supposed to ease us into the transition. (Hint: it does not.) What follows is basically an album of club rhythms over which Jewel sings some decidedly light-headed lyrics (i.e. “you plus me equals l-o-v-e”), abandoning her previous style of thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics (even if they weren’t necessarily comprehensible in a literal sense). Now she’s singing about a club where the music’s pumpin’ and the bodies are jumpin’…oooookay.

Not all of the songs grate on my nerves – “Run 2 U” reminded me rather pleasantly of the Moody Blues’ drum-machine-driven “English Summer” – but what really bugs me with 0304 is not the change in style, but the radical change in personality. According to all of the press material surrounding this album, Jewel came to her club music epiphany of her own free will, but something about 0304 fairly reeks of corporate interference. “Jewel wants to do another album? Well, that’s great, but can she go from mild acoustic/electric folk-rock to some sexy club music instead? That’d be great. And let’s get to sing through the exact same effects filter as Britney Spears, I love that sound! Great. Let’s do lunch sometime.” (And no, I’m not kidding about the filtered vocals – note to producer: if I wanted to listen to Britney Spears, I’d listen to bleedin’ Britney Spears.)

2 out of 4I have no problem with artists reinventing themselves – hell, Madonna started working with William Orbit and came up with my favorite stuff from her in years – but something’s rotten in the state of Denmark here. I really hope Jewel’s “club music epiphany” is short-lived. Not that I don’t like that style of music, but there are people out there doing it so much better than she is.

Order this CD

  1. Stand (3:15)
  2. Run 2 U (3:39)
  3. Intuition (3:54)
  4. Leave The Lights On (3:23)
  5. 2 Find U (3:16)
  6. Fragile Heart (3:33)
  7. Doin’ Fine (3:14)
  8. 2 Become 1 (4:40)
  9. Haunted (4:53)
  10. Sweet Temptation (4:09)
  11. Yes U Can (4:01)
  12. U & Me = LOVE (3:37)
  13. America (3:43)
  14. Becoming (4:22)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 53:39

Listen To What The Man Said

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney“What’s this?” I asked. “A Paul McCartney tribute album benefitting cancer charities and featuring the Finn Brothers? Sign me up!”

Actually, this nice little selection, proceeds from which go toward the fight against breast cancer, has many good covers of Macca’s post-Beatles best. Owsley kicks things off with a picture-perfect reading of “Band On The Run” which doesn’t stray very far from the original Wings recording. SR-71 turns “My Brave Face” – one of my favorite latter-day McCartney solo tunes simply by virtue of the fact that it isn’t “Hope & Deliverance” – into a gleeful hard-rock thrash. Semisonic also faithfully replicates “Jet”, rocking it out a bit but not so much that it’s unrecognizable. The Virgos give a similar treatment to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, while the Merrymakers punch up “No More Lonely Nights” (another personal favorite) a bit. Some of the other renditions fly under the radar a bit – Matthew Sweet’s “Every Night” for one.

And as for Tim and Neil Finn? It pains me to say it, but their cover of “Too Many People” is a mess – it sounds like an unrehearsed one-take-and-that’s-it wonder, without much effort. The arrangement isn’t organized, the sound quality isn’t even up to the standards of the brothers’ admittedly (and intentionally) lo-fi Finn album, and the vocals just smack of a cover band that’s been asked to play something they’d mostly forgotten. Sad to say, the Finn Brothers, who drew my attention to this collection, turned out to be its biggest disappointment. I was stunned. I was also looking forward to the They 3 out of 4Might Be Giants cover of “Ram On”, but it wasn’t so much disappointing as just inscrutably cryptic in its new arrangement.

Overall, a nice set – and one that truly turned my expectations on ear by introducing me to some excellent new artists while the known quantities gave me a wee bit of a let-down.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run – Owsley (5:14)
  2. My Brave Face – SR-71 (3:00)
  3. Junk – Kevin Hearn, Steven Page and Stephen Duffy (2:56)
  4. Jet – Semisonic (4:15)
  5. No More Lonely Nights – The Merrymakers (4:11)
  6. Let Me Roll It – Robyn Hitchcock (4:21)
  7. Too Many People – Finn Brothers (3:43)
  8. Dear Friend – The Minus 5 (4:45)
  9. Every Night – Matthew Sweet (2:56)
  10. Waterfalls – Sloan (4:21)
  11. Man We Was Lonely – World Party (2:59)
  12. Coming Up – John Faye Power Trip (3:43)
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed – Virgos (4:14)
  14. Love In Song – The Judybats (4:04)
  15. Warm And Beautiful – Linus of Hollywood (3:08)
  16. Ram On – They Might Be Giants (2:40)

Released by: Oglio
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 60:30

Jars Of Clay – The Eleventh Hour

Jars Of Clay - The Eleventh HourStill my favorite Christian rock act, Jars Of Clay’s fourth album sees them returning not only to the studio, but to the producer’s chair. Though I liked the stylistic stretches that it represented, not everyone dug If I Left The Zoo, with its almost Jellyfish-like experimentation with everything from bluegrass banjos to hard rock. That spirit of not sticking to the program, fortunately, survives through The Eleventh Hour with the hard-rocking “Revolution” (a smart song whose message is that if you really want to be a rebel, try being a decent person instead of trying to be a badass), and flirting with a latter-day R.E.M.-ish sound on “Silence”. The more traditional Jars Of Clay sound is still present too, with “Fly” and an alternate rock hit waiting to be discovered, “I Need You”. The band still excels at love songs which are neither sappy nor overly concerned with physical relations; they could be sung to the object of your affections as easily as they could be sung to Jesus – and that’s the beauty of it, because the latter is who the songs are 4 out of 4directed toward, but these songs could hit mainstream secular radio without sounding like Christian music.

Though the entire album is excellent, the cluster of “Fly”, “I Need You” and “Silence” is one of the better three-song runs I’ve heard on anything I’ve listened to recently. But the entire CD is highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Disappear (3:56)
  2. Something Beautiful (3:46)
  3. Revolution (3:42)
  4. Fly (3:20)
  5. I Need You (3:40)
  6. Silence (5:17)
  7. Scarlet (3:32)
  8. Whatever She Wants (3:43)
  9. The Eleventh Hour (4:27)
  10. These Ordinary Days (3:04)
  11. The Edge Of Water (3:54)

Released by: Silvertone
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 42:21

Jewel – This Way

Jewel - This WayLove her or hate her, Jewel is back. I admit to liking quite a bit – but not all – of Jewel’s past work, but I can also see where there’s a bit of pop culture backlash against her trying-almost-too-hard-to-be-earnest style. And to some degree, wisely, she sheds some – but not all – of that style in her latest album.

“Standing Still”, which also led the album as its first single, starts things off with a burst of raw energy which carries Jewel firmly out of the wanna-be folkster category and into rock ‘n’ roll territory. Some might be a bit dubious about this transition, but she actually carries it off well – her voice is capable of pulling it off respectably.

Other standout tracks include L”ove Me, Just Leave Me Alone”, “Serve The Ego”, and “Everybody Needs Someone Sometime”, all of which feature something of the same rocky feel as “Standing Still” to varying degrees. On other tracks, such as “Break Me”, Jewel retains her signature style, proving for the doubters that perhaps she hasn’t changed as much as you might think.

Overall, there’s actually a pretty good balance of new Jewel and old Jewel, stylistically speaking, and there are even a few live tracks thrown in at the end of the album just to mix things up even more. Still, there’s something missing – the ballads don’t come close to reaching the eloquence of “Amen” or “Deep Water”, and the rockier numbers somehow aren’t on the same plateau as, say, “Down So Long” or “Who Will Save Your Soul”. It’s just possible that Jewel has run out of inspiration and is falling back on old tricks to fill things out. The 3 out of 4press material for This Way made a point of telling us that Jewel had been burned out on touring and promotions during the publicity trail for her second album, and retreated from performing for a while to recoup her energies; This Way, while certainly listenable in places, comes across as a bit hollow both musically and lyrically. Maybe Jewel wasn’t quite ready to come back.

Order this CD

  1. Standing Still (4:29)
  2. Jesus Loves You (4:20)
  3. Everybody Needs Someone Sometime (4:08)
  4. Break Me (4:03)
  5. Do You Want To Play? (2:55)
  6. Till We Run Out Of Road (4:45)
  7. Serve The Ego (4:57)
  8. This Way (4:16)
  9. Cleveland (4:09)
  10. I Won’t Walk Away (4:46)
  11. Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone (3:47)
  12. The New Wild West (5:05)
  13. Grey Matter (4:40)
  14. Sometimes It Be That Way (4:21)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 59:41