Jellyfish – Radio Jellyfish (review)

Jellyfish – Radio Jellyfish (Omnivore) review

Recently discovered radio performances from these influential power poppers

Jellyfish were sort of the Big Star of the Nineties.

Both bands seemed to have an endless well of radio-friendly material, which ironically never actually made it to the radio.  Their brief careers were marred by record company blunders, yet each band has a loyal fanbase, which seems to grow every year.

Jellyfish’s two studio albums, Bellybutton (1990), and Spilt Milk (1993) are pop production masterpieces.  Heavily produced, they flew right in the face of the burgeoning back-to-basics grunge movement which was happening at the time.  But underneath all that pop sheen, Jellyfish wrote great songs, and were fine musicians. Radio Jellyfish shows just how great this legendary band really was.

The disc is a collection of ten acoustic performances, recorded live, in the studio, while on tour for the Spilt Milk album overseas.  The multi-layered production has been stripped away, yet what remains is still fantastic.  First of all,  Andy Sturmer was a great singer.  A lot of the band’s songs have some vocals that reach high in the register, yet he pulls it off tremendously well.  The harmonies are spot on, and the playing is tight.  The amped-up guitars are what gave Jellyfish their sting (sorry for the pun), yet, these songs shine just as well in the scaled-back setting.

Take “That is Why,” for example.  The piano fills the part normally played by electric guitars, putting more of the focus on the singing and great harmony.  There is a disclaimer in the liner notes apologizing for the “buzz” of a guitar string on that track.  Good thing they left it in – it’s one of the highlights of the whole set.   “The Man I Used to Be” has a more soulful quality here.  And, how was “The Ghost at Number One” not a huge hit?

Even though the band was touring for their second album, half of the ten-song disc consists of acoustic versions of tunes from their debut.  They also throw in two like-minded covers – “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” from the Move, and the startling-good Badfinger track “No Matter What.”

Maybe it was bad timing, maybe it was the cheesy, retro outfits, maybe it was bad label distribution.  Either way, Jellyfish never achieved the success they deserved.  Radio Jellyfish shows that their pop prowess wasn’t limited to the studio, they were a killer live band as well – and sorely missed.  —Tony Peters