World Party

“Put the Message in the Box” from Goodbye Jumbo

It’s a pain in the ass to write long-winded meditations on whatever album stumbles into my psyche. Sometimes I just want to write about a single song. To be honest, family, fatherhood and teaching are the prime real estate in my life these days and rambling meanderings fall somewhere near the excavation of my cat litter somedays. Therefore, I plan on offering some miniature dioramas of whatever song digs a hole in my heart on a more regular basis than once a week. Considering the fact that I have disappeared for entire years from this blog, my word in swiss cheese, but optimism is my forte.

Anyhow, I always loved this song. At the time of its release in 1991, I was a misbegotten teen who somehow chased down the divergent pathways of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. and Rakim as well as a maudlin fascination with the Smiths, Galaxie 500 and the Cocteau Twins. Those are just the good bands I listened to. I make no claims to premature cool. God knows I also owned albums by MC Hammer and the Dead  Milkmen too. Anyhow, I found myself immediately transfixed by this song whenever it reared its derivative noggin on 120 Minutes on MTV one night. I purposely avoided all classic rock out of some misguided aesthetic of cool that was ill-defined and its eminently hummable 90s alt-rock take on Bob Dylan seemed like something kaleidoscopic and fantastical to my undefiled ears.

“Put the Message in the Box”is a paean to optimism. It is an ode to speaking your mind no matter the consequence. God knows it is a timely theme that should be revisited today. However, the instrumentation transforms the hippie sentiments of the band into something more transcendent than mere encouraging words set to song. World Party is basically made up of one man, Karl Wallinger, and he was quite an effective chameleon for awhile. He basically summons all of the anthemic power of early 70s Dylan and marries it to country-rock by way of 120 Minutes and it somehow works despite itself. It’s a beautiful sentiment married to an equally beautiful song. That’s all I ask for in this world.

World Party-Bang!

August 13, 2008

World Party Bang! (

Crysalis/EMI 1993)

pt. 1

The Waterboys might not have been the sensation of their heroes, the Beatles, but what they didn’t borrow in melodic craftsmanship from the fab four–they took quite a bit actually, they mimicked in distribution of labor. With Mike Scott hooting enough to fill the shoes of a Lennon and a McCartney, it left Karl Wallinger to take the diminutive, underemployed, role of George Harrison.

Wallinger adhered to the archetype and moved ahead with his own thing. World Party recorded five albums in the wake of his departure from the Waterboys (1985-?), all with their merits. But it was his 1993 album, Bang! an eco-social concept album, that was both his best, and most continually puzzling as it eluded broader context recognition.

World Paty was pretty well established by 1993, with indie hits like “Put the Message in the Box” and “Way Down Now”, along with a critically-favored collaboration with Sinead O’Connor, but Bang! demonstrated Wallinger’s push out of staid indie jangle to a self-made pastiche of pop-rock songwriting and crate-digger exploration. The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Stones, permeated the sound, braided in with Prince, Was Not Was, and early The The.

The very notion of a political record from 1993 sounds a bit precious given all that has happened since. But Wallinger, every bit the intellectual, took the Earth Day-era sensibility and crafted some lasting music. Didn’t hurt that he could also fashion a hook and layer harmonies with the best of them.

“Is it Like Today?”, probably the best charting single of his career, was a sci-fi allegory about the end of times, a bit of wistful folk with Wallinger plying his gorgeous one man-CSNY vocal strategy to glorious effect. Like any good sci-fi the key is to humanize the story, which he did–right down to the nominal “bang”, forcefully whispered in mock compliance to T.S. Eliot’s apocalyptic vision.

And though his entreaties of Ursula K. LeGuin were (probably for the best) limited, that subtle talent for pushing human warmth into pedantic, speculative spaces proved invaluable. The cautionary, “Give it All Away” (perhaps more in line with Rachel Carson, in fact) was a tuneful and hectic nod to Paul Hardcastle’s “19”, remembered not nearly as well, and yet sounding far less dated for the trouble.

For that matter, the Prince homage, “Rescue Me” was both unlikely, and prescient. At a time when the Mtv Unplugged zeitgeist pushed a lot of artists into begrudging (and as often flat-out fake) acoustic directions, Wallinger’s nod to Prince’s synth soul-pop was an improbable, lovingly unironic, retort.

Best among the set, however, were the pretty side two ballads. “Sunshine” had the easy blues of something spun from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti (I’m thinking, “Down By the Seaside”), or that mostly elided fourth side of the White Album. But the zen moment occurred on the smiley-faced tearjerker, “All I Gave”. It pooled the World Party resources of honeyed harmonies–here reaching dizzied Bee Gees heights, a sparkling guitar from McGuinn’s best Byrds numbers, and a lyrical sentiment that–even to the naysayers of Wallinger’s environmentalist agenda and other various lefty notions, must have been irresistable.

Bang! happened in the detente of Clinton’s America (the birthing hour of Blair’s England) when the do-gooding drive seemed only altruistic–as opposed to now when it feels positively dire. But such was Wallinger’s great moment, a romantic lull during which he, nevertheless, felt compelled to sound the alarm to warn he future. The all-wasteful, hacking blacklung in me feels as though I missed the point fifteen years ago. The overly romantic, hacking blacklung in me remains content to have enjoyed it as I did…