Spilt Milk is the second and last studio album by American rock band Jellyfish, released on February 9, 1993 on Charisma Records. It was recorded after the departure of bassist Chris Manning and lead guitarist Jason Falkner. It was not commercially successful, peaking at No. 164 on the Billboard 200.
Recording took several months due to the album's complicated arrangements. The album was promoted with a yearlong tour (which included new members of the band) and singles for the songs “The Ghost at Number One” and “New Mistake”. In 2015, A two-disc deluxe edition was released by Omnivore Recordings.
During the yearlong promotional tour for the band's debut Bellybutton, tensions arose amongst the band members. The band's bassist Chris Manning left the group at the end of the tour to pursue a quieter life as a producer. The band's lead guitarist Jason Falkner had grown increasingly frustrated with having his songwriting contributions ignored by Roger Manning and Andy Sturmer and left the group after the tour. In regards to his departure, Falkner claims that he had to "get out". He recalls being diagnosed with an ulcer and being asked by the doctor if there was something or someone bothering him and recalled responding with "Let me stop you right there. There is indeed someone." This was in reference to his deteriorating relationship with lead singer and drummer Andy Sturmer, with whom he had various problems.
After the departure of Falkner and Chris Manning, Roger Manning and Andy Sturmer collaborated with Ringo Starr for his 1992 solo album Time Takes Time. They were also invited to work with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Wilson and Jellyfish only had one songwriting session that was unproductive. Manning described the experience as "utterly surreal". After their sessions with Starr and Wilson, the band was dedicated to making their next album "their masterpiece".
The songs were written in Los Angeles between October 1991 and March 1992. Manning would go over to Sturmer's home to work on the album for eight hours a day, six days a week. The band spent months in the studio; recording sessions used massed choirs, strings, brass, flutes, wind chimes, harpsichords and other instruments. The album was produced by the same producers as their debut, Albhy Galuten (of Bee Gees fame) and Jack Joseph Puig alongside Manning and Sturmer themselves.
Spilt Milk was released on February 9, 1993 on Charisma Records and later peaked at No. 164 on the Billboard 200. Its poor sales were attributed to being released during the height of the popularity of grunge. The album also made an appearance on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart, peaking at No. 8. Internationally, the album peaked at No. 21 on the UK Official Albums Chart and No. 100 on the Japan Oricon charts.
The band embarked on a year-long tour in promotion of the album which included a new line up (Tim Smith on bass and Eric Dover on guitar). Two singles were also issued in support of the album. These were "The Ghost at Number One" (which reached No. 9 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and No. 43 on the UK Official Singles Chart) and "New Mistake" (which reached No. 55 on the UK Official Singles Chart).
In a review for The San Jose Mercury News, music critic Bruce Britt described Spilt Milk "as compelling a homage to the Beatles and the Beach Boys as there is." Britt describes the album's production as "so heavy on production sleight-of-hand that the melodies sometimes collapse beneath the weight of the sound. For instance, Joining a Fan Club features a vaudeville piano introduction that gives way to a bruising rock chorus." Though he criticized the album for being "frustratingly derivative", he praised the album's "sprawling production and loving performances". Justin Mitchell of Rocky Mountain News describes the album as "a lavishly produced album that begs comparisons to the best of Queen, Supertramp, Squeeze and Paul McCartney, remixed through Jellyfish's '90s sensibilities." Mitchell claims that "what pulls the whole CD together is an unerring sense of superb melodies, harmonies and a lush wall of instruments ranging from basic guitars, bass and drums to the occasional banjo or woodwind section flying through the mix." In summation he calls the album "symphonic but never pretentious, sweet but not cloying and crafted throughout with a sly, lyrical sense of humor."
In a mixed review of the album, David Barton of The Sacramento Bee criticizes the album saying that it "stoops beneath the Beatles to borrow from Supertramp and Queen at its most bombastic, which may be fascinating listening at first, but quickly grows irritating." He also criticizes the band for not growing to its own "style and personality" but instead of refining "its gimmickry, with genuine expression being the main casualty. (And the songs aren't much, either)." In another mixed review, Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune praised the album's instrumentation, production, and Manning and Sturmer's songwriting. However, Caro asked whether the "facsimile Queen ("Joining a Fan Club," "All Is Forgiven")" was such an accomplishment. He continues by asking, "Is it possible for "The Ghost at Number One" to cram in just a few more Beach Boys/"Pet Sounds" touches? Is there really a song here called "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late"?" He concludes by saying that "Pop's greatest groups have been about more than just craftsmanship, and they didn't require the listener to expend so much energy discerning between the homage and the fromage."
In a review for AllMusic, critic Mark Deming gave Spilt Milk a highly positive review, describing it as "conceived and executed on a grand scale". He noted that "Sturmer and Manning sound like joyous kids left in a toy shop and making splendid use of every plaything at their disposal." While Deming criticizes the album for being "too big for its own good" production-wise, he concludes that the album was a "a massive balancing act that Jellyfish miraculously pull off; it might seem like a power pop Spruce Goose, but in this case it not only takes off, it flies high as a remarkable experiment in pop-minded rock on the grandest scale."
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