First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2006, Volume 13, #5
Written by John Metzger
After the 1997 release of Egyptology, Karl Wallinger’s World Party collapsed. Not only had the album received minimal support from Chrysalis Records — which led Wallinger to void his contract — but the label, along with most of his backing band, also had snatched a song from the set (She’s the One) without his knowledge and used it as a platform for turning Robbie Williams into a pop star. Wallinger tried his best to persevere by putting together Dumbing Up, his fifth outing since leaving The Waterboys, but further tragedy struck when his manager and friend Steve Fargnoli succumbed to cancer and Wallinger himself suffered an aneurysm.
Having fully regained his health, Wallinger subsequently fought for and won back the rights to his complete catalogue, all of which is in the midst of being reissued. In addition, he has reformed World Party for an extensive tour and has dusted off his most recent outing Dumbing Up for a proper release. (It previously had been issued only in the U.K.). Unfortunately, although the newly reconfigured incarnation of Dumbing Up boasts two additional songs as well as a two-hour DVD containing videos for World Party’s numerous singles, the collection isn’t necessarily the best foundation upon which to construct a career resurgence.
In essence, 20 years after launching World Party, Wallinger remains committed to bringing his influences to a younger generation. He’s still quite good at it, too — at times, he’s positively brilliant — but what he faces is a musical landscape that is quite different from that in which World Party was birthed. In 1990, when he created his finest outing Goodbye Jumbo, his appropriations sounded remarkably fresh, and although, at the time, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne were beginning to show signs of awakening from a long slumber that found them slipping closer to irrelevancy, they were hardly in top form. In recent years, Dylan, McCartney, and the Stones have all concocted critically acclaimed albums, and love him or hate him, Lynne has become a commercially successful producer. Simply put, churning out derivative fare (as Wallinger is prone to do) no longer is enough to hold anyone’s attention for very long.
Too often on Dumbing Up, Wallinger plays it safe, and as a result he frequently sounds as if he is constricting himself by working from a predetermined template of what a World Party album should be. The opening Another 1000 Years is drenched in The Beatles’ psychedelic sojourns, and melodically speaking, it bears a ridiculously striking resemblance to Baby You’re a Rich Man. Elsewhere, High Love is akin to George Harrison supporting Mick Jagger; Til I Got You finds the folk song that lurks beneath so many of Electric Light Orchestra’s overly produced overtures; and Here Comes the Future laces a modern-day, R&B excursion with Santana-esque guitar. For the record, the entirety of the outing is well-constructed, but considering that Wallinger merely is touching upon all of his usual bases, the set also feels seriously passé.
Even so, there are two definitive moments on Dumbing Up during which Wallinger performs with the sort of urgency that transformed Goodbye Jumbo into a minor masterpiece. The first is Who Are You?, a bilious blues-rock rant in the spirit of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm; the second is Always on My Mind, an elongated, Boomtown Rats-style, piano-driven hymn that contains a perfect blend of idealistic hope and bitter disappointment. Were the rest of Dumbing Up this emotionally inspired, the album likely would be heralded as a triumphant return to form. At least the video footage, which plays like a greatest hits collection, makes up for Dumbing Up’s overall deficiencies.
Of Further Interest...
Dumbing Up is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box