Dumbing Up Label: Seaview/Universal
If Aimee Mann thinks that she’s the gold standard for label mismanagement and bad luck, she needs to pull up a chair and listen to the tales of Karl Wallinger of World Party. Chrysalis, Wallinger’s label both in the States and he UK, completely buried World Party’s fourth album, Egyptology, then went bust, but not before kidnapping his band and having them record a note-for-note version of Egyptology track “She’s the One” for rising popster Robbie Williams. Williams’ version is a smash. World Party is promptly thrown under the nearest bus, picked up, brushed off, then thrown into a pit filled with bloodthirsty apes.
It gets better. World Party’s next album, 2000’s Dumbing Up, is released on a UK indie, with no US distribution. Then Wallinger had an aneurysm, which left him literally speechless. But living, as Eddie Vedder noted after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, is the best revenge, and Wallinger is finally getting even. He bought back the rights to his catalog – which had been out of print for years – and is reissuing spiffy remastered versions of everything, with Dumbing Up finally making is American debut. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely: Dumbing Up is easily as good as Goodbye Jumbo and Bang!, and possibly better. And just to frustrate the faithful who bought the import, the US version has two new tracks, a completely different order, and a bonus DVD with all of the band’s videos. Yep, you’re buying the album again.
Wallinger’s encyclopedic knowledge of all things Beatlemania is in full swing on opening track “Another Thousand Years,” borrowing the vocal from “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” He even flexes his Dylan muscles on “Who Are You?,” which is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” to the point where you can visualize Wallinger flipping giant place cards with random lyrics on them. The most curious track, though, is “Here Comes the Future,” a nifty slice of neo-soul that Jay Kay would give his right arm for at this point. Wallinger even hams it up like a full fledged b-boy in the video.
The two new contributions to Dumbing Up – “All the Lost That’s Wasted” and “Little Bit of Perfection” were bounced from the 2000 version – are two of the album’s highlights. “Till I Got You” is a laid back, Allman Brothers-style number, and the splendid “I Thought You Were a Spy” is the kind of song Supergrass tried to write for Road to Rouen but didn’t quite manage (though the stuff they did manage to write was A-okay). But both pale in comparison to the heartbreaking “You’re a Hurricane, I’m a Caravan,” which is this album’s “And I Fell Back Alone.” “I cannot stand up, you will not fall down / You’re an ocean wave, I’m waving as I drown.” It reads like a companion piece to “The Whole of the Moon,” the landmark track from the Waterboys, Wallinger’s former band.
It is probably too late to expect what currently passes for competent songwriting to experience a major correction due to the introduction of an album like Dumbing Up. But bless Wallinger for keeping the flame alive, and showing the kids a thing or two about true pop songcraft, not to mention what a devilish sense of humor – as opposed to an abusively sarcastic one – can do for a song. Wallinger turns 50 next year. He knows that his days as a pop charts regular are over. But it’s never too late to try to make the world a better place, which is all that World Party has ever strived to do in the first place.