[14 March 2014]
As its title suggests, Radio Jellyfish contains ten cuts selected from transmissions the band did over the wireless back in 1993. Jellyfish had a short lifespan back in the early ‘90s, with only two studio releases, a number now matched by archival live discs released during the past two years. This one showcases the acoustic sound of the power pop group in all its glory.
However, a radio show is not really a live show with the energy of the audience. There’s a DJ, but not a crowd. The results show the seriousness with which the band created fun. They worked hard to sound spontaneous. That’s not a dig; that’s professionalism. Jellyfish pursued what Brian Wilson famously termed “teenage symphonies to God,” complete with sweet vocal harmonies and guileless baroque arrangements that seem effortless despite their sophistication. It’s a neat trick, and for the most part Jellyfish pulls it off quite well.
Eight of the 10 tracks were broadcast in Holland during March 1993 while the other two come from Australia during September of that same year. The two Australian cuts are both standouts: the Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and the self-penned “Joining a Fan Club.” Both songs are lyrically playful and strange more than straightforward in their themes of nothing matters/everything matter that’s often associated with adolescent angst. Musically, the singers’ vocal synchronizations mixed with snappy acoustic guitar lines, piano filigrees, and crisp percussive effects.
The Dutch recordings may be a smidgen less fresh, but they share a delight in getting the sound bright and self-consciously pretty. The songs may share the same general pattern of vocals and instrumentation, but they each have their own personality. Much of this is because the individual tracks compiled here are much more a collection of singles than a unified document. That fits in the whole notion of Jellyfish’s purposely being a pop band, one which by definition deals with single rather than albums.
And because material frequently deals with keeping the right attitude when confronted by the anxieties of everyday life, there is an inherent drama that gives this pop an edge. For example, the beauty of a song such as “She Still Loves Him” comes from the fact that memories can often be sweeter than reality. Savoring the past can be a bittersweet pastime, but as Stephen Crane knew, it is eating one’s own heart that is special.
Or there’s the punchy “The King is Half-Undressed” that celebrates the importance of mystery in a relationship. Being uncertain about the one you love adds an important frisson to an affair. The mix of yearning and doubt only makes things better even as it creates the seeds of a future breakup. Nothing good lasts – which is one way by which a couple can identify their love as real. If it wasn’t, there would be no future, good or bad.
Radio Jellyfish provides positive evidence for why the band has such a strong cult audience a decade after the group disintegrated. The music still holds up strongly. The music may sound dated; more like 1973 or even 1963 than 1993. That’s alright. In fact, it’s a damn good thing.