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

Jellyfish – Bellybutton

Jellyfish - BellybuttonIt’s really too bad Jellyfish split up, because from the sound of this album and its solitary follow-up, they could have amassed a following as the premiere pop group of the 1990s. These guys really enjoyed making their music, and their joy in doing so is evident just from listening to it. If you need proof, listen to the goofy song “Now She Knows She’s Wrong”. I remember hearing “The King Is Half-Undressed” several years ago on MTV and disregarding the entire song until the bridge, which consists of some absolutely entrancing Beatlesque-going-on-ELO harmonies, and it turns out the rest of Bellybutton was at least as good as that one song, if not better. I have to single out “The Man I Used To Be”, “Bedspring Kiss” and especially the sobering “She Still Loves Him” – about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship – for special 4 out of 4praise. These guys could make some music. Sadly, after one more album, Jellyfish broke up, though some of its members are still active, even if their output is somewhat obscure. I highly recommend this album to you, and it’s hard to miss – it’s got the ultra-colorful, trippy cover featuring the band members looking for all the world like they’re auditioning for a live-action movie about the Smurfs!

Order this CD

  1. The Man I Used To Be (4:34)
  2. That Is Why (4:16)
  3. The King Is Half-Undressed (3:47)
  4. I Wanna Stay Home (4:06)
  5. She Still Loves Him (4:32)
  6. All I Want Is Everything (3:44)
  7. Now She Knows She’s Wrong (2:36)
  8. Bedspring Kiss (5:03)
  9. Baby’s Coming Back (2:57)
  10. Calling Sarah (4:03)

Released by: Charisma
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 39:38

Jellyfish – Spilt Milk

Jellyfish - Spilt MilkJellyfish added a new dimension to their 1970s-inspired pop sound by allowing more than just a little influence from Queen sneak into their second – and, due to the quick breakup of a very promising band, last – album. From the opening lullabye number right into the immensely Queen-esque “Joining A Fan Club”, it’s obvious that Jellyfish assimilated some of the best and most distinctive trademarks of Freddie Mercury and friends. The precision of the vocal harmonies on this album are amazing to hear, as is the hauntingly familiar hard-rock-and-thrashing-vocals approach, also inspired by Queen. The only thing that really tips one off that this is not Queen is the absence of Brian May’s unmistakable guitar 4 out of 4harmonies. Despite the influx of that particular style, Jellyfish didn’t entirely abandon their original sound, as can be heard in “New Mistake” (my personal favorite) and “Ghost At Number One”, though they also demonstrate a great aptitude for good old-fashioned low-tech rock with “Glutton Of Sympathy”. It’s really sad that the band fell apart after this one – it showed more promise than most bands I’ve heard this decade.

Order this CD

  1. Hush (2:10)
  2. Joining a Fan Club (4:03)
  3. Sebrina, Paste and Plato (2:23)
  4. New Mistake (4:03)
  5. Glutton of Sympathy (3:49)
  6. The Ghost at Number One (3:37)
  7. Bye, Bye, Bye (4:02)
  8. All Is Forgiven (4:10)
  9. Russian Hill (4:45)
  10. He’s My Best Friend (3:44)
  11. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late (3:15)
  12. Brighter Day (6:12)

Released by: Charisma
Release date: 1993
Total running time: 46:13