World Party

Private Revolution
Goodbye Jumbo
Bang!
Egyptology


Private Revolution (Ensign/Chrysalis ’87) Rating: B+
Former Waterboy Karl Wallinger is a whirling one-man dervish on his World Party debut, which is primarily remembered for the soaring hit single “Ship Of Fools” (just try not to sing along to that one) but which contains much more besides. “Private Revolution” opens things off in Prince-ly fashion, and though its synths sound dated and the lyrics are overly repetitive and preachy (i.e. “the revolution is at home”), the song is both catchy and bouncy, while “Making Love (To The World)” and “It Can Be Beautiful (Sometime)” smoothly showcase Wallinger’s falsetto croon to fine effect (the former song is more about its mid-tempo groove, the latter all about atmosphere). “All Come True” is typical of the type of song that Wallinger excels at, featuring a pleasantly mellow synth/keyboard-led groove and a soulful, singable chorus. The biggest problem with this album is its second side, which is less impressive aside from the pretty, country-ish Sinead O’ Connor duet “Hawaiian Island World” and the shiny pop of “World Party.” Yes, that includes his cover of “All I Really Want To Do,” which is closer to the Dylan original than the Byrds, which is not a good thing and which is unnecessary anyway since The Byrds had nailed the definitive version. Still, this version is better than the Dylan original, and "It's All Mine" likewise is something of a grower, primarily due to Wallinger's passionate vocal performance. Unfortunately, Wallinger's environmentally aware lyrics can be preachy at times, and the album’s dated synth sounds and hippy-ish sentiments can get annoying as well. Sometimes his influences, which in addition to Prince and Dylan includes the Stones and especially the Beatles, are a tad too apparent, too, such as on the all too Dylan-esque “The Ballad Of the Little Man.” Fortunately, its obvious flaws aside, a good portion of this classy debut consists of soulful, crafty pop songs, and the next World Party album would be a considerable step up in class.

Goodbye Jumbo (Ensign/Chrysalis ‘90) Rating: A-
Karl Wallinger really hit his stride on Goodbye Jumbo, which has the same overly obvious influences as Private Revolution but which features more steady and substantial songs. Indeed, it’s easy to marvel at the consistent quality of the songwriting and the excellent execution of the performances here, with pretty synthesizers and a wonderfully melodic guitar tone leading the way along with Wallinger’s plaintive croon. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully crafted pop album that’s aided by a clean production sound that perfectly fits the bright, buoyant material. Lyrically, Wallinger again focuses on the environment and other topics that are important to him, particularly religion and relationships, and impressively rich, mellow grooves carry this often-evocative album forward musically. Perhaps I could live without the sparse, funky “Is It Too Late?” (a poor choice for an album opener), and I’m also not a big fan of the discofied “Show Me To The Top,” but otherwise I’d be hard pressed not to tout any of the other tracks. The classic groover “Way Down Now” (which liberally borrows its catchy “who who’s” from The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”) and the emininently singable “Put The Message In The Box” were minor hits and both are outstanding, but the evocative “When The Rainbow Comes,” with its gorgeous slide guitar and lyrics lifted from the Marvelettes (how in the world did Wallinger escape plagiarism charges?), the uplifting “Take It Up,” and especially “Sweet Soul Dream,” a sweet soul ballad on which Sinead O’Connor again guests, are also really good. Elsewhere, “Ain’t Gonna Come ‘Till I’m Ready” is sexually explicit yet still sexy, even if there isn’t much of a melody to it (it still works, mostly ‘cause of Wallinger’s falsetto), while “And I Fell Back Alone” and “God On My Side” are sparse, solemn ballads and “Love Street” is a beautifully breathy synth ballad. Last but not least, “Thank You World” provides an uplifting, sincere signoff from a then-popular but since-neglected gem of an album that at the very least ranks as a minor classic of its kind, some liberal borrowings and a duff track or two aside. Karl Wallinger is a true pro, and this is a sparkling, expertly crafted pop album by a "band" who (then and especially now) deserve a much wider audience.

Bang! (Ensign/Chrysalis ‘93) Rating: B
Though drummer Chris Sharrock and guitarist Dave Catlin-Birch have signed on as official band members, World Party is still Karl Wallinger’s show, though co-producer Steve Lillywhite adds his customary big drum sound to songs such as “Give It All Away.” An avid psychedelic-era Beatles fan whose soulful synth pop sound is updated by Prince-ly affectations (particularly “What Is Love All About?” and “Rescue Me”), Wallinger remains a gifted melodist, and the album starts strongly with “Kingdom Come” and “Is It Like Today?,” both of which continue along the same lines as the mellow musings found on the excellent Goodbye Jumbo. “Kingdom Come” has pleasantly smooth synths, a brisk beat, and country guitars going for it along with varied vocal hooks (the galloping chorus and the airy “forever” sections), while “Is It Like Today?” is the kind of effortlessly melodic and singable ditty that gives singer-songwriters a good name. “What Is Love All About?” is another questioning, socially conscious winner, this one on the funky side, but after that promising start the middle of the album flounders somewhat, largely because of a reliance on overly busy arrangements and electronic effects, plus the fact that Wallinger’s voice doesn’t translate as well to louder material. The silly interlude “And God Said...” is also a hindrance (preachy lyrics are again a problem), while “Hollywood” and “Radio Days” are overly repetitive, lazy efforts. Fortunately, the ship gets righted on “Rescue Me,” which among other funky Prince-like attributes features a soulful guitar solo. The next song, “Sunshine,” provides ample ammunition to detractors who lament the band’s obvious musical references, since the song starts by borrowing the melody of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” before borrowing the melody of The Who’s “Getting In Tune.” It’s still a solid song, and "Sooner Or Later" and “All I Gave” are other singable synth pop pleasures, though “Give It All Away (Reprise)” repeats one of the album’s weaker songs, new ideas obviously being harder to come by this time around. Strangely enough, despite being an overly long and disappointingly patchy album, this was the band’s biggest commercial success, hitting #2 on the U.K. charts. Still, Bang! isn't the place to start with World Party, though there’s enough high quality stuff here that fans of the band’s previous work should be willing to give it a try.

Egyptology (Papillon '97) Rating: B+
After a four year layoff, Wallinger ditched the proper band approach for another one-man gang showcase, though Sharrock again drums on some of the tracks. The good news is that Wallinger ditches the socially conscious hippie generalizations for a more personal lyrical approach (for example, “Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb” is inspired by Bob Dylan and his recently deceased mother, and the bluesy, guitar-heavy “Hercules” is a belated tribute to Kurt Cobain), and the album on the whole is less pretentious and more consistent than Bang!. Also, the aforementioned songs and the Zombies-esque “Vanity Fair” are moodier, darker entries than we’ve come to expect from World Party, which is a good thing given that their albums were starting to sound like more of the same. On the downside, at 15 songs and almost 60 minutes the album is far too long and lacks obvious highlights; too many of these songs simply come and go without being especially memorable, though they’re pleasantly tuneful while they’re staying. As usual, Wallinger digs up stellar if borrowed ‘60s sounds (The Beatles influence again being omnipresent) and updates them with crystal clear ‘90s recording techniques, and I suppose if pressed I’d list “Beautiful Dream” (dig the airy Lennon-esque melody) and “She’s The One” (a beautifully epic McCartney-esque love ballad) as other potential highlights along with the songs already mentioned. “Rolling Off A Log,” a poignant if overly long ode to lost innocence, and “Piece Of Mind,” a light soul funk number with Wallinger’s falsetto at the forefront, also stand out, in part due to their long length, but unlike Goodbye Jumbo (still the band’s best work by a wide margin) the overall album isn’t enhanced by sequencing or common themes. Still, this is an enjoyable collection of well-written and well-performed songs, as Wallinger remains a steadily reliable and occasionally inspired tunesmith/studio wizard. And in 1998 it was hard not to notice the influence of World Party, as Robbie Williams had a big U.K. hit with “She’s The One” and the New Radicals stormed the U.S. charts with “You Get What You Give,” which was a dead ringer for World Party. Oddly enough, since then Wallinger himself has seemingly all but disappeared, as his 2000 album Dumbing It Up kinda came and went (I don’t even know if it was ever released in the U.S.) and he hasn’t done anything since (it’s August 2005 as I write this). Update: Apparently Wallinger suffered a brain aneurysm in 2001, so that explains his lack of productivity since then!

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