Accompany music : New Mistake
When I started doing this album a week madness, I knew I would be weeks, where a number of contenders would appear and I would be faced with impossible choices. This week 05-02-17 to 12-02-17 contains special celebrationary anniversaries for Jethro Tull ‘Songs from the Wood’ 40th birthday and Ben Folds ‘Whatever and ever Amen’ 20th birthday. Both I would have done but I am revisiting these bands later on. To make things worse, I also said, I would pick albums which I consider important, of these Van Halen 1 and Carol King Tapestry also fall into this week…. But there was one album which I couldn’t get out of my head, even facing such classics. Not only does it move away from the 1970’s, and the melancholy nature of the last two albums but moves us into another strange facet of my musical taste. I love quirky music.
What do I mean by quirky? Sort of strange music that stands out from my standard listening. Music can be simple (or complex) but usually develops across genres and themes. Lyrics usually colourful, imaginative, sometimes surreal but in a lot of cases sublimely captures a moment or feeling. Tracks feel throwaway, heartfelt and intelligent all at the same time. A lot of the bands also seem kind of geeky. Yeah, I know this doesn’t make sense but let’s name some bands and see if we can develop this. The 1990’s were a golden period for this music for me, the aforementioned Ben Folds Five released 3 stunning albums (including Whatever), Eels released Beautiful Freak in 1996, They Might be Giants starting in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s produced catchy tracks, Crash Test Dummies release God Shuffled his Feet, Cake release Fashion Nugget and late in 1999 Flaming Lips release Soft Bulletin. These are bands with an edge, hang somewhere between rock and pop, kind of nerdy American and are distinctly different from other bands in my collection. By the time the majority of albums came out, the band Jellyfish had released their last album and would be no more.
Jellyfish were formed in 1988-89, when Roger Manning (keyboards) and Andy Sturmer (Singing Drummer) left the band Beatnik Beatch and met former Manning associate and XTC liker Jason Faulker (Guitar). Their debut album ‘Bellybutton’ was well received and showed a wide range of influences on their music. I received their single ‘The King is Half Undressed’ on a magazines free cd and I liked it. It had a cross between 90’s indie and 70’s rock. Pounding drums, jarring pace with harmonised vocals and synths. Unfortunately I didn’t hear enough to get the album. Jellyfish toured with an additional bass guitarist Chris Manning who also added sublime backing vocals to the sound. Unfortunately by the end of the tour both Chris Manning and Faulkner would leave the band. The remaining members regrouped with session musicians and Tim Smith (Bass) to record their second album in 1992-93. Building on those extensive influences they produced a far more complex and elaborate album, utilising sound effects, overdubbing, sequencing and harmonies galore. Again I would hear a single ‘Ghost at Number One’ which after the first listen, wasn’t that much different from ‘King is Half Undressed’. Again I thought it was good but wasn’t compelled to buy the album….. and that was one of my biggest musical regrets. It would be a full 7-8 years later, when my friend Chris would put the album on and say ‘Billy, you will love this album’ and I instantly did. And then I go and buy their first two albums and then look for their third…… there isn’t one. I was distraught to find that after the Spilt Milk tour the band broke up because of creative differences a year later in 1994.
So why do I love it. I was hooked from the opening notes of Hush all the way through to the same note at the end of the crescendo of Brighter Day. The band were so quirky and had sublime songwriting with songs jumping in style and pace. The arrangements were excellent with the merging of songs almost into each other giving the impression of a surreal concept album. It’s an album of colourful escapism and comforting sentimentality. Use of language and imagery in the lyrics is inspired and mad. Most of all it was the melding of the influences which impressed. Call it copying, playing homage or paying tribute to your influences, Jellyfish pulled off merging many styles to create their own sound. Throughout the album you can hear Cheap Trick, 10cc, Supertramp, Pixies, Beatles, Queen, XTC, Raspberries, ELO, Wings, Beach Boys and Squeeze all delicately balanced. The majority of the bands which I grew up listening to. The overall effect is an album of colourful themes which take you from happiness to melancholy, from lullaby to rock solo… all in a wonderful relaxing bubble. The album in my opinion, doesn’t date… it feels it should be from the 1970’s but seems still fresh now as I play it in 2017, a full 24 years later.
The opening elongated note of Hush, travels into childlike lullaby territory with synths and harmonised Beach Boys like barber shop vocals. The beautiful start is shattered with the opening riff of the epic Joining a Fan Club, piano leads into verses and wallowing rock choruses. The change of pace in the bridge into sleazy blues and then Faces like all out solo is one of my favourite bits of the album. Sabrina, Paste and Plato is a surreal mini concept song, taking nursery rhyme like melodies and innocent lyrics of a child lunchtime. It’s a bit like the psychedelic Beatles & Randy Newman.
My favourite track is the amazing ‘New Mistake‘. It’s a sublime journey song following a sequence of life events (a bit like Diary of Horace Wimp). It has sublime sentimental lyrics which sometimes are so visually mad but have so much meaning. I love the line ‘So Father Mason clutching his crucifix, Baptized the baby in whiskey and liquorice, What a lovely way drowning sins in tooth decay’. The music is so reminiscent of ELO and Supertramp, down to the bluesy pop, the string interludes and odd castanets. This track makes me all happy, warm and comforted. Acoustic guitar and vocals herald the start of Glutton of Sympathy. After the opening couple of verses, then follows the glorious choruses with more blues guitar. Lyrics are melancholy but strangely uplifting. Very reminiscent of Squeeze/10cc. Ghost at Number One, starts with drum crescendo, harpsichord interventions and shout vocals (with obligatory harmonised background vocals). The harmonising in the bridge is pure Beach Boys.
A repeated start of nah, nah nah reflects the title of Bye Bye Bye, we are quickly into an old dance which feels like a polka, complete with tuba. It is complemented by beautiful sentimental lyrics. It’s got a Beatles/Wings like quality to it. Additional sound effects give the impression of a small bar with old people dancing. One extreme to another, All is Forgiven feels like a Distorted guitar and disjointed drumming Pixie like Grunge track , but surreally every so often Queen Harmonised Vocals crashes in. Russian Hill returns to acoustic guitar and gentle lyrics, sliding synth adds to the atmosphere and later flute sounds adds more jazz elements. It’s a beautiful breather of a track reminiscent of XTC.
He’s my Best friend, is a Raspberry like track, where Synth and pianos fill this track with a real 60’s vibe. The great feel is helped by lyrics reminiscent of Nilsson or Newman and a brilliant delivery. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late has elements of Squeeze, Wings and a little of Cheap Trick. From opening guitar refrain, blues/country/rock feel to downbeat lyrics and slightly more uplifting rock/pop chorus. The final track Brighter Day has the Supertramp/XTC/10cc kitchen sink thrown at it, from fairground organ start, dark lyrics and a stompy march like quality with brass band. Little interludes of madness appear, and build at the end in crescendo until we return to the twinkly notes, Disney like finish and back to the opening elongated note.
I love this album so much. So Spilt Milk, feels to me like a sugar rush. A comforting, colourful candy of an album. Like getting stuck overnight in a Willy Wonka chocolate factory (The Gene Wilder Version) complete with the 60’s split screen effects and oompa loompa interventions (without the scary child death bits). In troubled times like these, its great to have escapism every so often and this album takes me to a time of happy innocence sitting in front of the radio listening to the soft rock of the bands I loved. How I wish Jellyfish had created more experiences like this.
The art piece for this had to be surreal, but there is so much imagery on this album it was difficult to capture one element. I had initially planned to do Sabrinas Lunchbox from ‘Sabrina, Paste and Plato’, complete with all the ingredints but it didn’t quite capture the madness of the album. I also wanted to somehow represent the bands that influenced (or seem to be featured inadvertently in) this fab album. Inspiration came from the same song in the opening lyric, ‘Far behind the forest of flying paper aeroplanes’. So 12 mini aeroplanes were made of 4 different designs using photographs of Cheap Trick, 10cc, Supertramp, Pixies, Beatles, Queen, XTC, Raspberries, ELO, Wings, Beach Boys and Squeeze. For the record the order shown here (and the long picture above) is how far they flew down the corridor on a test flight, the arrow like Cheap trick plane flew 256 cm whereas Squeeze basic build flew less than 10cm.
So I ended up combining both ideas and placing them in a deep frame. A background is prepared of two shades of yellow, trying to depict the curtain of the album cover. At the top the planes are placed using spacers to attach. At the bottom a pink box was created with silver/gold stars (matching the dress of the cover). Calvin/Hobbes writing is used to declare Sabrinas Lunchbox. Inside of this, objects are placed from each of the songs and spacers are used to build depth. From left to right there is, a Jellyfish T-shirt, holy water, a picture of a bridge coming into view, a sandwich, a chalk dollar sign, a cotton reel, a wedding cake, a clock, liquorice, whiskey, a Death of a salesman script, a barbers pole, a cloud and a five leaf clover.
Hopefully I created something as mad, colourful and visual that pays tribute to such a great album.
Billy (aged 25 at time of album release)