We Jellyfish fans will take whatever new music from the band we can get, even if by “new” that means “the same old music in a new form.”
Record Store Day’s now annual Black Friday event this year included a limited edition of the bands two albums Bellybutton and Spilt Milk in instrumental form but, as they are quick to point out, these aren’t simply those albums stripped of their vocals. No, what we have here are re-tooled versions of those songs intended to focus the attention on the many instrumental elements that got buried in order to let (in general) Andy Sturmer sing his heart out.
Interesting to note is that these instrumental mixes have sat in the vaults for 20 years. They were created at the time the albums were but nothing was done with them.
The results are better than you’d expect from a bunch of pop songs, which usually suffer without their vocals, and that’s because Jellyfish was one hell of a band, filling their songs with all kinds of clever bits in the background. Now those bits get the spotlight. Roger Manning’s vibraphone keyboard sounds, for instance, accent Andy Sturmer’s guitar in the first verse of “Glutton Of Sympathy,” something I can’t say I’d ever really noticed before, along with horn patches and percussion bits that had been hidden away.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jellyfish's 1993 album 'Spilt Milk' showed how far the band had come in perfecting its terrifically layered brand of hooky pop-rock - but, alas, it was the last we ever heard of them.]
Sometimes the fun here is just enjoying the simplicity of a great riff, like in “The King Is Half-Undressed,” where you can focus more on either line of guitar — the right channel tends to be lead guitar, the left rhythm, but both have pretty wicked sounds. (Jason Falkner’s absence on Spilt Milk is one of that album’s unfortunate downsides) You’ll occasionally hear some backing vocals, those “bah-bah” “doo-wah” types of things the band would pad choruses with, and they even point out in the liner notes that they’d intended these to be part of the instrumental versions.
A big question I had was what would “Hush” sound like, being essentially a showcase for the band’s strong sense of harmony. Here, Andy’s lead vocals are sent to the background and the band’s harmonies are the focus, and little of the sparse instrumentation of the original is present. So it’s kind of an interesting counterpart to the Fan Club box set’s “Spilt Milk Intro” and all-vocal “Hush.”
Stack-a-Tracks is the kind of thing that has a pretty small audience, rabid as they may be. It certainly wouldn’t be a good place for a new listener to jump in, of course, but for long-time fans, it’s hard not to get some joy out of hearing what you’ve overlooked for two decades.
In its present version, it’s limited to 2000 copies and available only at independent record stores. In my case, I picked up what seemed to be the only copy the store had two minutes after opening on this Black Friday Record Store Day, so tracking one of these down may be a challenge.
I would hope, however, that it will be unlike that Fan Club box set and be available again in some form, somewhere, for fans to check out. (And, hey, maybe if we show enough interest, Fan Club itself will be reissued!)