Jellyfish (Contemporary Musicians)
Even though Jellyfish only recorded two albums, the group's critical acclaim and fervent fanbase have made them icons in the field of 1990s power-pop music. Carving out a niche with groups like Redd Kross and The Posies in the mid 1990s, these groups put a new spin on their favorite retro pop bands, creating an underground genre that remains popular among pop music fans. People's Eric Levin noted the band's talent: "ellyfish is a band driven by an ebullient love of pop and rock's whole gonzo arsenal of expression and a determination to craft every song into a fully loaded, to-the-max, minimasterpiece." Unfortunately, Jellyfish never reached beyond cult status and after only four years as a group, they parted ways. However, singer Andy Sturmer and keyboardist Roger Manning, the creative and songwriting force behind Jellyfish, along with guitarist Jason Falkner, went on to pursue satisfying solo careers.
In the late 1980s, friends Roger Manning and Andy Sturmer played in a funk-pop group called Beatnik Beach. After leaving the group to start a new one, Manning and Sturmer began to look for a bass player and a guitarist for a power-pop group they would eventually call Jellyfish. At the time, young guitarist Jason Falkner played with the band Three O'Clock, but after
Adorned in floppy hats and bellbottoms on the album cover, sugary treats, flowers, and bubbles all around them, there was no doubt that Jellyfish were going for a free love meets bubblegum ambiance. But their music was more intelligent than their campy photos let on. Their songs may have played homage to '60s and '70s pop heroes, but if you listened closely, there was something new and fresh going on. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sturmer even admitted to their love of the '70s, as he stated, their "dream gig would be between Sweet and Badfinger."
Critics raved about Bellybutton, noting its Beatlesque styles. "Imagine McCartney at his most melodically ornate, but possessed of his onetime partner's cynical edges, and you've got Bellybutton, the greatest album Wings never made," Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman wrote. The bouncy single "Baby's Coming Back" faired well on the Billboard charts and the album sent them off on a long tour across the United States, even playing with heroes Brian Wilson and Ringo Starr, the latter whom Sturmer and Manning collaborated with for an album (Starr's 1992 record Time Takes Time).
Reviews compared Sturmer and Manning to Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles and Jellyfish's love of the famous group could be heard all over Bellybutton, but after some time, the songwriting duo grew tired of the comparison. When they began to write songs for their sophomore album things would be differentut just slightly.
Before finishing songs for their second record however, both Chris Manning and Jason Falkner decided to quit the band. Falkner had wanted to begin a solo career before he had even joined Jellyfish and felt like now it was finally time to do so. Bassist Tim Smith joined the group full time and musicians Eric Dover, producer Jon Brion, and Lyle Workman became regular Jellyfish players and contributors to the band's 1993 record Spilt Milk.
Spilt Milk, produced by Sturmer and Manning along with Galuten, took Jellyfish's collective idolshe Beatles, the Beach Boys, ELO, and Queen, and rolled them into a rollicking, ambitious pop record. "On their second album the band reached their peak," Keyboard magazine's Robbie Gennet wrote. "The production on this record is truly special, and listening in headphones better reveals the many subtle instrumentation and effects touches that are sprinkled liberally throughout."
Released in the middle of the grunge era, however, the lively and eclectic album failed to give the band a boost above the notice they had just begun to receive with Bellybutton. The record received glowing reviews from major magazines. Guitar Player even listed Spilt Milk in their list of the top 50 unsung albums that every guitarist should own. "This under-appreciated effort from pop-rock historians Jellyfish contains some of the best tunes that the Beatles, Badfinger, and the Beach Boys never wrote."
Though Bellybutton dented the Billboard charts, it was the beginning of the end for Jellyfish. In 1994, the band cited "creative differences" and disbanded Jellyfish. In the subsequent years, as Falkner released successful solo albums, Chris Manning and Sturmer became producers. Roger Manning and Eric Dover formed the power-pop group Imperial Drag and released one album before Roger Manning became a sought after session musician.
However, Jellyfish's underground legend in the pop world gained momentum as new bands began to cite the short-lived group as icons. In 1999, Charisma released Greatest, a 14-song collection of Jellyfish material that included some of the band's catchiest singles and even their takes on both a Wings and Badfinger song. 2002 saw the unexpected release of a Jellyfish box set titled Fan Club (a take on the band's song "Joining a Fan Club"). Released by Not Lame, the four-disc package assembled by the band and label contained the kind of material you wouldn't expect to find from a band that was only together for four years. The dozens of unreleased tracks only proved the devotion fans had retained to Jellyfish over the years.
Bellybutton, Charisma, 1990.
Spilt Milk, Charisma, 1993.
Greatest, Charisma, 1999.
Fan Club, Not Lame, 2002.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Macmillan, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 2002.
Guitar Player, April 2002, p. 88.
Keyboard, February 1, 2003, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1990, p. 14.
People, April 26, 1993, p. 21.
"Jellyfish," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 24, 2005).