Dumbing Up

World Party

Seaview Records, 2006


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I wonder sometimes what World Party must sound like to sometime who *didn't* grow up in the 60s and 70s. Vaguely cool and retro, I suppose. Melodically sophisticated, a bit cerebral, and with production that somehow manages to come off as both organic and densely layered.

For those of us who were aborning around the time John first met Paul, however, a listen to World Party is like an instant musical flashback. Hardly a track goes by that you don't think "That sounds a little bit like________" (insert name of memorable 1965-69 melodic rock song, preferably by the Beatles). That might be a slam if the songs were second-rate, but they aren't. World Party mastermind Karl Wallinger is a musical craftsman of the first order -- he just happens to have a sound he likes, and it's one that's intensely familiar to those of us of a certain age.

World Party came to fruition in 1986 as a vehicle for Wallinger's solo work after he quit his position as keyboard player for the Mike Scott-led Waterboys. A multi-instrumentalist-singer-songwriter-producer, Wallinger brought in other players to fill out the World Party sound as needed, relying most frequently over the years on the tasteful, chameleonic guitar work of Dave Catlin-Birch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

World Party's fifth studio album Dumbing Up was first released in 2000 under difficult circumstances; Wallinger suffered an aneurysm soon after its release and it was essentially never promoted. This year's re-release on his own Seaview label has a reshuffled track order, remastered sound, two new tracks and a bonus DVD with over two hours of material, including a treasure trove of WP music videos.

Newly-ensconced album opener "Another Thousand Years" has solid energy and real sweep to it, finding a happy medium between the sweet melodic rock of Revolver and the big-sky punch of Cream. Its second cousin is "Til I Got You," a sunny pop confection with ear-candy layered harmonies, something that John, Paul and Brian Wilson might have written for Rubber Soul.

Giving up his Beatles fetish for a few minutes, Wallinger goes Dylan on you with "Who Are You?", a modern-culture-skewering rant that mocks everything it touches with near-lethal acidity. He isn't entirely stuck in the late 60s, though. "Here Comes The Future" finds Wallinger layering bells and falsetto harmonies over a funk beat and muted, stabbing guitar lines, just like The Artist Whose Name We Couldn't Pronounce In The Nineties -- who is of course himself probably the all-time leader in retro-sound-thievery.

A mid-disc highlight is "I Thought You Were A Spy," an essentially acoustic number that nonetheless builds up a nice head of steam toward the finish, and features Wallinger doing such a good Mick on the vocals that I feared for a minute he might accidentally break into a chorus of "Wild Horses." Late in the game, the Dylan influence returns with the tongue-in-cheek wordplay of "You're A Hurricane, I'm A Caravan."

Enough of spot-the-influence, though. Wallinger writes original songs with a distinct voice, one that strikes a smart, clear-eyed balance between cynicism and belief, idealism and disgust. As the album title backhandedly acknowledges, Wallinger's lyrics invariably both entertain and challenge, which speaks well of his choice to keep the music feeling somewhat familiar and accessible.

It's very much too bad this album didn't get a decent shot upon its first release six years ago. Let's not let that happen again, shall we?

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Seaview Records, and is used for informational purposes only.