It's Saturday...time again for another long nerd-essay about a great album from the past!!! This week, however, I've been kinda lazy. I got busy and forgot I had to go to Chicago--so I didn't have time to put together a very good entry. I debated not doing one, but vowed to ROCK ON.
Last week I looked at Queen's epic NEWS OF THE WORLD--this week I'm listening to Jellyfish a band heavily influenced by 70's glam-rock, like Queen!
Jellyfish was a small band, a footnote in the grand history of rock. But their impact is still felt among cool pop bands, and anytime I meet someone who's aware of them, I know I have a new friend. Their first record BELLYBUTTON is a fanastic piece of pop (and ROCK) history. So sit back and enjoy another installment of Classic Albums Revisited:
Prior to 1990, I had no idea what "Power Pop" was. All "power pop" means is rock music with strong pop sensibilities (melodies, strong lyrical hooks). A good example is Cheap Trick, The Cars, Badfinger, Ok Go, and Weezer.
Anyway, the first band I ever heard labeled as "power pop" was Jellyfish. Formed out in California, the band has a sizable cult following among pop-lovers. I've heard them described as both neo-hippies and dayglo-hippies--basically they had a nice 60's pop sound merged with 90's rock. As a kid, I liked them because they worshiped at the alter of The Beatles (like me). They only put out two records, but every single memeber of the band still works in the music industry to this day (working on everything from the latest Paul McCartney record to the last Kanye West single).
The artwork on the back of the album shows glistening strawberries and cherries mixed together, with a strand of candy beads. This is very much what this album sounds like--it's very sweet, sometimes sickeningly sweet. What's great about it, however, is that often the songs are very subversive/dark despite the sugary coating. BELLYBUTTON opens with "The Man I Used to Be," which is the saddest song--about how war/conflict can tear a family apart. Lead singer Andy Sturmer has a very distinctive voice, similar to say Freddie Mercury. If you hear this guy's voice once, you'll forever be able to pick it out anywhere.
BELLYBUTTON is epic in both song writing and production--the album is full of keyboards and strangely a harpsichord. "The King is Half-Undressed" features the harpsichord, and like a lot of Jellyfish songs--it sounds a bit like a broken carnival ride. And what I mean by that is, it's a sweet song, with a very bent, musically dark side to it that gives it a little kick that makes it better than just "good." The break-down in the middle is very Beach Boys-ish, too.
That' s another thing about Jellyfish--lots of "Bum, bum, ba"s.
There's a certain timelessness about this music, which is another reason why I enjoy this record--even to this day. The melancholy, XTC-ish "I Wanna Stay Home" sounds like it was recorded (and produced) today. By harkening back to an earlier period, Jellyfish manages to avoid sounding "so 90's." There's a bit of jazz ("Bedspring Kiss") and a splash of country (the twangy vocals in "Baby's Coming Back"). Like a lot of classic bands, Jellyfish didn't have one main influence.
As a side note, Jellyfish spawned two really talented musical careers--guitarist Jason Falkner and Jon Brion both got their first taste of mainstream success with this band. Falkner played on BELLYBUTTON and Brion on the band's other record SPILT MILK. Falkner is an excellent songwriter, whose talents were sadly not utilized by Jellyfish (go check him out, he's played on a crap of different records usually as a session musician for everyone from Beck, A Perfect Circle, Paul McCarteny, Air, Aimee Mann, and Travis). Jon Brion is a mater-producer whose oddly been doing the hip-hop thing most noteably with Kanye West. Both have fantastic (seriously go get them) solo-records.
As for BELLYBUTTON, it's a fantastic blast of sweet power pop. The melodies, the guitars, the hooks...it's bliss people. SPILT MILK is good, but for my money, the first is the best. If you like 70's glam rock or 60's pop, you owe it to yourself to check Jellyfish out.