Review Summary: A top notch debut from one of power-pop's best loved bands.
Jellyfish were a highly influential power-pop group from San Francisco. Their cheerful sound warmed the hearts of many music enthusiasts around the world, and although short lived, they created two very high quality pieces of work; 1990's Bellybutton and 1993's Spilt Milk. The core sound of the band came from the two primary songwriters: Andy Sturmer (Lead vocals/drums) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr (Keyboards/backing vocals) who have often been compared to by many with the song writing abilities of Lennon/McCartney. A hefty claim this may be, but indeed an effective selling point for the bands music if that.
Jellyfish formed in 1989 and split in 1994. Why so short lived? Apparently Manning and Stumer's creative differences clashed too much in the end, resulting in heated conflict between the two. A shame really, due to the high quality of their compositions, but as they say, less is more. 1990's Bellybutton was the bands début release, and joined by guitarist/bass player Jason Falkner, they didn't hold anything back when creating their signature sound.
First of all, it should be pointed out that Andy Sturmer stands up whilst playing the drums at the front of the stage and sings. Now this is a highly uncommon position in itself as most drummers choose to take a seat in the back. But it doesn't hinder his style at all. Although not a highly complex drummer, he does well to keep a beat. Andy's voice is very unique sounding, but also very lush and easy on the ears. He sings with a very clear tone and has an impressive range, a key factor to power-pop music.
Roger Joseph Manning on the other hand is a little more complex in comparison. A very talented keyboard player who uses unorthodox effects within the power-pop genre to take songs to new emotional highs. Take the harpsichord for instance, one would not normally associate such a dated instrument with power-pop, but Roger uses a very subtle playing style so it doesn't overwhelm the listener, and compliments the music very well. His background vocals are also very well placed throughout the songs, giving a "Beach Boy" harmony to Andy's lead vocals.
The songs on the record are quite experimental within the genre. Opening song "The man I used to be" is a sombre sounding ballad, and builds up its atmosphere with a broody grand pipe organ intro, which then expands into a minimalist guitar playing simple two note sharp chords over a hollow drum beat. The lyrical content of this song is quite depressing in itself, as it gives the impression of a man who has died at see, and is speaking to his son from beyond the grave whom he has never met. A topic most bands would avoid on their début album. Andy's impressive range shines on this song, showcasing that he can sing low and quiet, to loud and soaring. The next track "That is why" is a thoroughly effective piece of pop/rock, characterised with tasty guitar licks and nicely put together chords. The song is minor in the verse, but picks up in a progressively major chorus.The chorus also shows the talents of Jellyfish's ability to harmonise vocals, adding a whole lot more depth to the songs.
Tracks like "Calling Sarah," "Baby's coming back," and "Now she knows she's wrong" are bouncy and catchy power-pop pieces which also showcase their vocal harmonies very well, but then "Bedspring kiss" is a whole different kettle of fish which sounds like a minor lounge piece. A definite stand out track on this album
, the song itself deals with a friend who has succumbed to heroin addiction, and features one of Roger's brilliant multi effects keyboard solo's, which starts off with a harmonica effect. This then cleverly blends into a strings effect whilst a grand piano is played with the other hand, and builds up to a huge climax. All the while, a storm sample is played in the background which creates a very deep listening experience.
The album as a whole is very high in quality. One song lets the album down however: "All I want is everything" is a pretty filler rock song that the album could have done without. The track alone isn't bad, but when compared to the high quality and song writing of the other songs, it seems like it was written by an entirely different group. But apart from that the album is a near perfect listen. On their next and final album: Spilt Milk, Jellyfish would take their music to another level in experimentation, but this album indeed showcases the Jellyfish sound in it's prime. And it is near faultless.
That Is Why
The King Is Half Undressed
Now She Knows She's Wrong