Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer It's His Party

By Jim Hanas

AUGUST 4, 1997: 

any artists bristle at the suggestion that their art is not entirely innovative. Not Karl Wallinger. His music is Beatlesque and he doesn't care who knows it. To the oft-made observation that his records as World Party sound like the Fab Four, his answer is straightforward. "I'm not looking for innovation on this album," he says. "I'm glad it doesn't sound like the Sex Pistols."

Egyptology, released last month, is the first World Party album since 1993's Bang! went to number two in the U.K. Wallinger says he started work on his latest immediately but got sidetracked on the way to its completion. "I wasn't just working on these songs. The recording of these songs was very quick," he says. "One thing led to another and it was four years later."

What sidetracked the Welsh-born popster was technology, as he labored to install video and graphics facilities in his sonic laboratory, London's Seaview Studios in London. A strange preoccupation for an artist who has been dubbed an "eco-musician" by some and whose latest record concludes with a song debunking the technological promise.

"I gotta go, got some people to see./They're going to show their invention to me./Say it'll save lots of my precious time, open up the inside of my mind to always," he sings on "Always." Given the hiatus, it might be a lesson he learned the hard way.

Of course, his view of technology is much more ambiguous than the lyrics would suggest. A comment from the liner notes to Egyptology sums it up better: "Remember COMPUTERS ARE A CON . . . a fucking good con but a con all the same."

For Wallinger, the good part of the con is it allows World Party to be what is essentially a one-man band. After all, the project was born in the mid-'80s when Wallinger left the Waterboys to seek more creative control -- something he wasn't going to find in a band whose direction was primarily determined by lead singer Mike Scott.

World Party's 1986 debut Private Revolution was just that, as it saw Wallinger playing and producing all the tracks including the environmental anthem "Ship Of Fools," his biggest single to date. Nineteen-ninety's Goodbye Jumbo made extensive use of session musicians, and on 1993's Bang!, drummer Chris Sharrock and guitarist Dave Caitlin-Birch -- who, along with John Turnbull, make up the touring outfit -- appeared as full band members.

Egyptology, on the other hand, is more like a return to Private Revolution. Aside from Sharrock drumming on half the tracks and a handful of guest appearances, it is entirely a Wallinger product. "It's a simpler process when you're working on your own," he says. "I very much consciously decided to work on my own."

"Why? Because I can," he explains. His updated studio facilities have allowed him to do "all parts of the process" from the recording to the cover art, everything but pressing and distribution. "I think that's quite a powerful and liberating thing," he says.

Nonetheless, it hasn't kept the new record from sounding as planted in late-'60s psychedelia as ever. For Wallinger, the idiom of that era's pop provides a common language he likens to other traditional forms such as jazz. "I've used the language of '60s pop the same way jazz musicians use jazz," he says. "I'm basically updating the lyrical content in some way."

Those updated lyrics are made of pessimism combined with guarded hope. Humanity is described as "a team that always loses" ("The Whole Of The Night") while at the same time being urged to "Grab the key, unlock the door, then we'll know what life is for" ("Rolling Off A Log"). And where the message threatens to turn too cynical, it's the melody that saves the mood.

"You just have to fasten your seatbelt and get on the white-knuckle ride," Wallinger says of modern age, while at the same time stressing the struggle to hold onto our humanity.

That's where the determined jangle of his music comes in. "To me," he says, "that was very human music, what the Beatles made."


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