Bellybutton, by Jellyfish
Reviewed by Ross Silcock
Jellyfish? Never heard of them, but I’m young right? There are thousands of bands I’ve never heard of never mind listened to. Jellyfish are a rock band, but what does that even mean? What is Rock? I must make a disclaimer, I hate trying to define bands by genres, what’s more if your band fits perfectly within a genre then I probably hate it too. Divisive I know, and undoubtedly not entirely accurate. I like to make bold sweeping statements with little evidence and just a gut feeling I have. But I digress, we’re here to talk about the rock band Jellyfish – does a Jellyfish really evoke the feeling of rock? I think in the rock, paper, scissors paradigm a Jellyfish is going to really struggle to muscle its way into the fight… no, still not on target….
Right, focus, Jellyfish are an American rock band formed in San Francisco in 1989 – I was 3 then as it happens, so Jellyfish not being on my radar seems justifiable as they then sadly disbanded in 1994. In that time, they released two albums; Bellybutton which we’re here to discuss today and the breakfast time evoking Spilt Milk.
I think the thing that frustrates me about trying to pigeonhole bands and styles is that if you stick in your lane too much you end up sounding incredibly derivative and lose out on some wonderful creative potential. Thank fully the release on offer here doesn’t suffer from that issue, Bellybutton has a wonderful blend of styles and influences, there’s punk, prog, reggae, jazz going on here as well as the aforementioned rock. Jellyfish were churning out there music around the time of Britpop and post-punk but interestingly were heavily criticized for sounding like a bit too much of blancmange of so many bands from the ‘70s and onwards which maybe says that my opinion wouldn’t hold much water with the critics.
As for the meat of the matter, the albums content starts out with the inoffensive The Man I Used To Be whose lyrics read like a letter from a rather melancholic father to a wayward child. That is why comes hotly on its heels and sounds almost like an admission of a failed marital relationship. Track three The King is Half-Undressed is my kind of poetry put to song, with repeating four-line stanzas with approximately repeating rhymes on lines one, two and three. The contents not half bad either. The guitar and drums remind me so much of Manic Street Preachers here who were so formative for me in my teens, with that driving blend of snares, bass line and repeating guitar riffs. I Wanna Stay Home carries on the feeling of an old soft rock gentleman waxing lyrically to his kids, yet the front man drummer, wait, what? I hear you ask. Yes, apparently Andy Sturmer was often lead vocalist and drummer, drumming from the front of the stage on a stand-up kit… Wild.
Where was I? Sturmers writing reads like that of someone in there mid 40s its weird and really jarring in the context of his age when the album dropped because it doesn’t seem forced to me in the slightest. Carrying on that jarring sense is, She Still Loves Him which starts with some wonderful finger work on the piano making you feel like you’re in some old smoky speak easy before it takes a sharp left and changes direction like some poor imitation of Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Bedspring Kiss is where I start to work out what’s wrong here, the opening of some smooth Jazz saxophone work and reading the lyrics and I’m getting ready for a wonderful ride, and then the verse starts and I fall asleep. The vocals are so soft and mellifluous with breathy backing vocals that I almost lose interest in something that I want to like, in theory. I’ll come clean and say that I listened to the whole album one run through before doing any research or paying any proper attention to it. I’m meant to be busily working on an assignment for my degree that’s due on Friday and this is a useful procrastination piece. I listen to music when I’m doing just about anything, reading, cycling, showering, you name it it’ll be accompanied by music of some kind. I’m pretty adept at splitting my attention in half like I’m some cheap Kvothe imitation entering the heart of stone (look it up/give it a read and thank me later.) so normally I can tell you what I’ve listened to and why. But this whole album just passed me by on its first run. I had to down tools and go through it again just so I could say something, and yes, I know at this point I’m at some 800 words but that’s just business as usual for me I’m afraid. But this album is so easily consumed and forgotten that its like eating a bag of prawn crackers while you wait for your takeaway, just because they’re there and not because you like them.
If I was forced at gun point to pick a standout track, I’d probably plump for The King is Half-Undressed just because on paper its great. But I could easily see any of the others sneaking it from any other discerning listener.
Overall I think Bellybutton gets a mediocre 5/10 from me. There’s a lot to like here but somehow it just gets lost in the hubbub of its own sound.