Number 200 in these ongoing ramblings of mine feels like a real milestone, one that needs celebrating in some small manner. Then let’s celebrate it by noting that it is fitting that this 200th blog post concerns just about one of the greatest albums released in my lifetime and one which has never been very far away from my ears since it’s original release (it’s playing now)…30 bloody years ago !!!
By the time Jellyfish came to make their second album there had been changes. Guitarist Jason Falkner, who had also played much of the Bass on “Bellybutton”, had left over the lack of opportunity to write songs for the band which was tightly controlled by Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning Jr. Chris Manning’s (Roger’s brother), who hadn’t played on “Bellybutton” but had been drafted in to play Bass on the albums tours, had also departed. So singer/drummer Sturmer and keyboard-ist Manning were joined by guitarist John Brion (who would very soon join Jason Falkner’s post Jellyfish band The Grays) and Bassist Tim Smith (who went on to join Umajets who, if you like Jellyfish, are well worth searching out). Albhy Galuten was back to oversee production along with Jack Joseph Puig, Sturmer and Manning and oh what a marvellous confection they all created.
There are lullabies, songs about the teenage adulation of pop stars, unwanted pregnancies and possibly the best song written about “self satisfaction” since The Vapors “Turning Japanese” (you did know that was what “Turning Japanese” was about…right ?) “My hand’s a five leaf clover, It’s Palm Sunday over and over…He’s my best friend”.
Things start gently with “Hush”. One thing I discovered from the CD is that “Hush” and final song “Brighter Day” start and end respectively with the same keyboard note, so if you play the CD on repeat (which I used to do often) the album is a never ending loop, cleverly thought out stuff this was. “Hush” is a lullaby, delivered using those beautiful vocal harmonies that were shown off in “The King Is Half Undressed”. The voices fly about and swoop in and around the melody, it’s quite beautiful
“Go to sleep and hush little darling
It's time for bed, time to put out the light
Sweet dreams are awaiting behind your closed eyes
And a blanket of night, Where the bed bugs don't bite”
The next 5 songs making up the remainder of Side 1 may be some of the greatest pop music ever made. “Joining A Fan Club” comes muscling in on a big fat guitar blast and lays out the joys and perils of teenage obsessions
“Joining a fan club with my friends, Filling our bathtubs with tee shirts and 8x10's
He looks so dreamy, I'm in love from afar, When I'm picking up a fallen star”
And after recently watching a (frankly quite dull) 90 minute video about the making of “Spilt Milk” it was a very pleasant shock to hear Roger Manning Jr. say that the saxophones on “Joining A Fanclub” were arranged in homage to Roy Wood and Wizzard (we’ll get to them subsequently). The following “Sebrina, Paste And Plato” is a whimsical look at the lunchtime goings on at a school.
“New Mistake” is the song mentioned above about unplanned pregnancy. Now I guess you’ve figured out by now that I likes a lyric and this song contains a couple of pearls, firstly about the “mistakes” christening
“So Father Mason, clutching his crucifix
Baptized the baby in whiskey and licorice
What a lovely way, drowning sins in tooth decay”
And later on while reporting from the future about the baby’s love life on growing up
“The ending turned tragic when many years later
The baby had grown up and married a pop singer
I think it was her turn to make her first mistake”
All this poetry wrapped in a swinging arrangement packed full of those vocal harmonies we’ve come to love. “The Glutton Of Sympathy” is a beautiful ballad and Side 1 ends on this albums lead single “The Ghost At Number One”. Guitars rumble and slash through the verses leading to a Baroque-ish feeling chorus telling of the trials and tribulations of a doomed star. It’s quite superb.
Right then, deep breath cos here comes Side 2…and while I’m writing this for you I’m listening to “Stack-o-Tracks” the instrumental backing tracks from these two albums (yes, I’m that obsessive!).
“Bye Bye Bye” breezes past all sweetness and light but gives way to something that is as close to Punk Rock as Jellyfish ever got. The opening chords to “All Is Forgiven” don’t sound like Jellyfish has before, they are loud, atonal, brutal and angry. Still they manage to lead you into a killer of a song with accusations jabbed at someone who sounds like they don’t deserve forgiving
“Hypocrite, four flusher, snake in the grass
Just a swindler and wolf in sheep's clothing
That final “LIAR!” sounding like it jumped straight out of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Jellyfish didn’t often get nasty but they did here.
“Russian Hill” is a lush ballad set in the area of San Francisco famous for that winding street you see in so many movies, Lombard Street. “He’s My Best Friend” pretty graphically concerns the act of “self satisfaction”. It was originally not going to be on the album but the band decided it would add some light relief (if you’ll pardon the pun) and it certainly does that with some excellent “Carry On” style nudge-nudge…wink-wink lyrics including “At thirteen we shook hands”, “You don't need a brain to have a stroke of genius” and
“He doesn't need a rubber sweater or alcohol
Cause he gets tipsy from exchanging looks
And a little misty reading sticky (blue dirty books)”
As I wrote about “Bellybutton” this is intricately constructed pop music with a sprinkle of fairy dust that sets it head and shoulders above almost everything of its time. Jellyfish burned bright and then were gone. What they were doing didn’t fit the times, this was the early 90’s when Grunge (aka bands who were too scared to admit they played Heavy metal in plaid shirts) ruled the airwaves and Jellyfish slipped between the cracks. I was “talking” with my friend Marcus, another committed Jellyfish enthusiast, about them while writing this. I again offered that Jellyfish should have been huge, he responded “I like to think that in a parallel universe, they are huge”…take me there…
The Ghost At Number One - https://youtu.be/YgKjC2V4xfk?si=Y84zwWCi0yxNAS1t