Here’s a clip of neo-psych power-popsters Jellyfish. It’s their single “The King Is Half-Undressed”, as featured on their classic 1990 record Bellybutton.
This is an album that pulls together an irresistible concoction of The Beatles, Sell Out-era Who, the Beach Boys, and with a certain sonic affiliation thereby with XTC, Badfinger, and Cheap Trick. This song scored #19 on the Billboard modern rock chart, and would be one of five singles off of the record.
The band wore their power pop and psych colours proudly on this song, and on the album in general. But, there are multiple strains of rock music to be found here, and on the rest of Bellybutton. There’s certainly an anthemic quality to this tune, which makes it large scale in a way that most power pop isn’t.
The record was a critical success, during the very brief window between the ’80s college rock era, and game-changing ’90s grunge. This video was honoured with a Best Art Direction at the MTV video awards. Once again, this happened during a time when it was possible that a band like Jellyfish could be so honoured.
They had the tunes, and the sound that allowed them to be a singular presence in the charts. But, Jellyfish was another example of a band who, despite their clear talents, were doomed to be short-lived. So, what happened?
This song is very 1967 in places, with a candy-coated aural sunshine that is immediately affecting. Yet, the sentiment in the lyrics gives way to a pervasive sense of disappointment and disillusionment. More sombre lyrics would come to the forefront even more so when Nirvana hit the scene, with music that went along pretty handily with these same sorts of sentiments. As such, “The King Is Half-Undressed” fits in pretty well with the early ’90s zeitgeist lyrically speaking.
Here, the Wilsonesque ba-buh-buh-ba’s undercut the angst, creating a pop song that delves into a darker thematic territory without sounding like a dirge. It works its way in, a bitter pill coated in sugar. It would be the key engine to the success of the album, which was critically acclaimed, even if the sales (as is often the case) didn’t follow. A second record, Spilt Milk, would follow anyway, and to similar critical praise.
Despite the consistency of the material, personnel within the group became unstable, with some of the gaps being filled by studio musicians, including upcoming go-to guy Jon Brion. And another force of evil where cool rock bands go came into play as well – creative differences. Former guitarist, and one-time The Three O’Clock member Jason Faulkner, had left before Spilt Milk. Principals Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning were at odds creatively by the end of it, and by 1994 it was over.
There would be no third record. Yet, Bellybutton remains a favourite, and something of an anomaly during a very narrow span of time when nothing sounded quite like them as they brushed up, however briefly, with the mainstream.
To read more about this band, read this article about Jellyfish by a writer who saw them play live.
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Listen to a podcast review of Bellybutton by Jellyfish on Dig Me Out at digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to revisiting lost and forgotten rock of the 1990s.