Jellyfish

TrackAlbum
The Man I Used To BeBellybutton
The King Is Half-UndressedBellybutton
Bedspring KissBellybutton
Joining A Fan ClubSpilt Milk
All Is ForgivenSpilt Milk
Russian HillSpilt Milk
Brighter DaySpilt Milk
Family TreeFan Club
The Ghost At Number One (acoustic)Radio Jellyfish
Let 'Em In/That Is Why (live)Fan Club

Jellyfish photo

Jellyfish (1990 – l to r): Roger Manning Jr (keyboards, vocals), Andy Sturmer (drums, vocals), Jason Falkner (guitar), Chris Manning (bass)

 

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Jellyfish playlist

 

 

Contributor: David Burton

I took a gamble on an album cover in 1990 and I never looked back.

Bellybutton jumped out at me for so many different reasons; it was so colourful, the guys on the front looked like they’d stepped straight out of an episode of the children’s TV show Mr Benn (if they’d had an episode set in San Francisco in 1969, that is). Oh, and on the front it had a lady’s midriff decorated with toothpaste. (I was 15!)

It said Jellyfish on it. It said Bellybutton on it. It looked like fun. I had no idea what it sounded like, but I thought I’d take a punt.

Anyway, what did it sound like? That’s what’s important, right? Well, I could say that it was like nothing else I had ever heard before and it blew my mind. But that’s not true. If I’m honest, on first listen it sounded like everything I had ever heard before (in a very good way), swallowed up by a giant rock monster and then spat out again as one brand new sound. It blew my mind!

Loads of reviews of Jellyfish (rightly so) talk about the Beatles, Beach Boys, Queen, Supertramp, ELO, XTC, Crowded House (I could go on and on) but for me Jellyfish were so much more than a band that kind of reminded you of other bands. The music was varied: some tunes rocked out, other were sad ballads; they could throw in a heavy metal riff here, a dreamy folk song there and even a polka. There were serious themes (domestic abuse and broken homes) underneath all the musicality, and it just begged you to go back for more.

Bellybutton opens with a knockout one-two punch of The Man I Used To Be and That Is Why. Melodies, hooks and harmonies, and those lyrics that make you go “Wait, what did he just sing?”.

Oh, and the lead singer, Andy Sturmer, was also the drummer. And he played the drums, while singing, while standing up. When they played live, he was front and centre. This still blows my mind!

They literally had everything. They were going to be huge. MTV loved them for their thrift shop hippy dress sense and a few radio stations picked up on one of the singles from Bellybutton (Baby’s Coming Back, later covered/murdered by McFly in the UK – and they took it to No.1!).

I couldn’t wait to see where Jellyfish would go. And I was going to be able to smugly say that I was there from the beginning.

But then grunge took off and Nevermind happened and no one wanted three part harmony, colourful clothes or anything remotely optimistic.

So they never really reached the heights they should’ve done. Of course I stuck around and waited patiently for their second album. The first single from it, The Ghost At Number One, came out in the UK in spring ’93. And I could not believe that they had managed to surpass Bellybutton. It was like they had taken what I had loved about the first record, nurtured it for eighteen months or so and then come out with what to me was close to perfect.

It was a bit louder than their first album’s material. It was very far from grunge, but I thought that if enough Nirvana and Pearl Jam fans could find something in Jellyfish, there was still hope.

It turns out there weren’t.

 

Album No.2, Spilt Milk, came out later in ’93 and remains to this day one of my favourite records of all time. It’s kind of a concept album that takes place over the course of a young rock fan’s dream (the first song on the record is called Hush). Again, great musicality and amazing harmonies, this time with some of the most perfect production you will ever hear. Serious themes again sit side by side with all of this; religion and fandom get tackled with masterful wordplay.

Jellyfish never recorded another album and went their separate ways shortly after. Sturmer went off to Japan and has kind of shunned the limelight ever since. The rest of the band have formed various other outfits since (Imperial Drag, The Lickerish Quartet) and have toured with a string of other acts (Beck and Air, for example).

But there’s nothing quite like Jellyfish. And for a band that only released two studio albums, the fact that there are now numerous releases of live recordings, box sets (Fan Club), and a double tribute album (Sensory Lullabies), just shows what a legacy they have.

I’ve picked the 10 songs that I think cover all the things that showcase what they are about, not necessarily my 10 favourites but please, don’t take my word for it, go and listen to Bellybutton and Spilt Milk and discover them all for yourself.

For further reading on Jellyfish – the formation, the breakup, the legacy – the Wikipedia page is recommended.

 

 

 

Jellyfish photo 2

Jellyfish (1993 – l to r): Roger Joseph Manning Jr (keyboards, vocals), Andy Sturmer (drums, vocals), Tim Smith (bass), Eric Dover (guitar)

 

Jellyfish fansite

Power Pop Hall of Fame: Jellyfish

“Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story” by Craig Dorfman (2016 paperback)

The Lickerish Quartet official website

Jellyfish biography (AllMusic)

This is David Burton’s first post on this site. He lives in London and is a bit of a musical anorak. He doesn’t play any music but always has something playing. Unless the football is on! You can follow him on twitter @burtmars.

TopperPost #883

2 Comments

  1. Joyce Gibson
    Jul 5, 2020

    I loved Bellybutton – it always takes me back to the life I had in the early 90s. Like you say, the influences were clear but the sound was totally their own. I also have Spilt Milk but never got into it as much. I think I need to rectify this. Thanks for doing such an underrated band justice – it’s fantastic to see them in Toppermost.

  2. Marc Fagel
    Jul 5, 2020

    Great review. I’ll admit I’ve always been a little frustrated by Jellyfish. On paper, they check every box for a band I should love, yet I find it hard to get into their albums. I love Falkner’s solo albums as well as Manning’s, and listen to those a lot more than Jellyfish. But I’m going to sit down with this playlist today. Thanks.

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