The notion of listening to a band like Jellyfish in an unplugged acoustic setting may be counter intuitive to some of you accustomed to the band's dense post-Beatles-meets-ELO-meets-Queen sound. However, it makes total sense because it allows you to hear that beneath all the production gloss that made this band post-punk power-pop faves in the 90s were a great team of songwriters and singers. Longtime, hardcore fans of the band will no doubt have heard the music on Radio Jellyfish, a lovely collection of live radio broadcasts from 1993 (Holland 3/17 and Australia 9/21) recently issued on vinyl and CD by Omnivore Records. I suspect, however, that most of us haven't heard these performances, particularly in this kind of quality.
Let me get the audiophile-y stuff out of the way here: the vinyl pressing sounds mostly fabulous with a really nice sense of the acoustic guitar and harmony-filled vocals. Recorded for radio, -- and I am totally guessing here but -- I suspect that these performances were probably saved for posterity on DAT (digital audio tape) back in the day. That is cool since it was a good basic format for the pre-laptop times, enabling recording at a pretty high quality level with a low noise floor. DAT tapes also took up very little space, very important for a band on the road documenting its tour while needing to keep their travel load light. Fidelity-wise, DAT would have been more than adequate to capture this music as it was being played over the airwaves -- broadcast standards usually demand certain levels of compression added in, so these recordings have a bit of that "sound" of radio on them. This is not a bad thing, but you should understand this when buying the album. It is what it is!
My clear vinyl "first" pressing (according to sticker on the album shrink wrap) was a bit noisier than I was hoping for, but not horribly so. I had to return one copy of the album and the second version was much better so I'm guessing this noise was just an random problem. Still, I was expecting more from Omnivore Records -- this, the first pressing I've heard from them that wasn't pretty near perfect -- and can only attribute this slight slip up due to the fact that this album is issued as part of Universal. In contrast, last year's Big Star movie soundtrack album put out by Omnivore on beautiful, thick, perfectly pressed orange -- and dead quiet -- vinyl sounded tremendous. That said, if a little bit of whooshing sound audible between some tracks is a problem for you, perhaps wait for "second" pressings which I am assuming will be on traditional black vinyl.
My only other disappointment about this issue is that there was no download included but that is a minor issue really -- I mean... for the most part I'll want to listen to this on vinyl anyhow, right?
The performances here are exemplary and compelling. A track like "The Man I Used To Be" at the end of side one takes on a sort of ambient majesty in this stripped down incarnation. I really like the full-bodied, close-mic'd warm-toned sound of the acoustic guitars on "Joining a Fan Club." You can hear what solid singers the guys in Jellyfish were on the pulsing piano-and-acoustic-guitars take on their hit "The King is Half Undressed."
One of my favorites is a fab cover of The Move's hit from 1968 "I Can Hear The Grass Grow." What is that? You have no idea who The Move were? Shame shame, power pop fan! Get thee to the Wiki and read about these folks and the bands (and hits!) they spawned.
The album wraps up with a great cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What" which... What's that again? You never heard of Badfinger? (sigh). Ok, go to this Wiki page to learn about another under-rated but wonderful band that had big Beatle-sounding hits on the radio in the post Beatles days of the early 1970s.
You have some homework to do, dear reader!
That shouldn't stop you from enjoying Radio Jellyfish, a fine album for fans of the band and not a bad place for the uninitiated who prefer more of a singer-songwriter style of music listening experience than the enormous Bohemian Rhapsody-syled barrage of their two original studio productions.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.