Twenty five years ago today, with little fanfare and precious little hullabaloo, the greatest album ever recorded snuck onto the shelves of the unsuspecting world, creating only the smallest of ripples in the rock firmament, but forging an indelible and unforgettable impression on listeners, musicians and the cognoscenti ever since. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Spilt Milk by Jellyfish.
Who? What? I can hear spluttered coffee even as I write this, but Spilt Milk is the lightning-in-a-jar moment of three astonishingly creative and visionary musicians allowed totally free rein by a record company who had little idea that the recording costs and subsequent lack of sales would come close to bankrupting them. But who cares about that when the result is this good?
Never mind that you now hear former members of Jellyfish playing on albums by Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney and all those kinds of people, this was twenty five years ago, just after Jason Falkner (Google him) had left the band, frustrated at not being allowed to bring his own material to the table. If as good a songwriter as Falkner was not up to the Jellyfish mark, it gives you some idea of how strong the rest of their material was.
Enter the two genuises behind this project – Roger Manning Jr. and Andy Sturmer, Manning the quiet keyboard genius with the flowing locks and the light backing vocals, Sturmer the lead singer and (standing) drummer. There in the background Tim Smith, rock-solid bassist, and various other musicians (and instruments) to produce a sprawling, enthralling experience.
Their first album Bellybutton had done reasonably well, retro-pop with a dash of The Beach Boys, and the single The King Is Half Undressed had been a frothy but minor MTV success, but few could have suspected the vast widescreen audiodrama that would be Spilt Milk, a sprawling dreamscape of a concept, beginning with a child (presumably) falling asleep and then returning to exactly that same point some forty minutes later. As it transpired, Spilt Milk was a ne plus ultra, but what a swansong, an extraordinary work that demands to be heard through headphones, lyrics in hand, and which reveals more of its extraordinary details even after hundreds of listens.