Going through the boxes of youthful detritus the other day I found several of my 1980s scrapbooks into which I pasted cut-out reviews and gig advertisements from newspapers and magazines. As a youth in the country the scrapbooks were a means to connect myself to the greater, exciting, after-dark world of the city that I was inescapably distant from. I had a look at them standing there in the garage. I am bemused by my lack of selectivity, that I’d cut out a huge amount of everything, page after page of ARIA Album Charts and Dee Why Hotel ads. I guess I didn’t know any better, there is a time when everything after-dark is desired and that was my time.
Stuck inside, but not glued in, were a few pages from RAM magazine featuring an interview with Karl Wallinger. It was post-Waterboys and just about the time that “Ship of Fools” was moderately successful in Australia, 1986 is my estimate though it could be a touch later, maybe 1987. There was nothing of great interest in the interview, all the usual promotional bells and whistles about the new album and the predictable chit-chat about potentially coming to Australia, which I don’t think he ever did.
I stuck the pages back into the scrapbook and the scrapbook back into the box but then I turned to my collection of elderly records and found that I still possessed two World Party 45s: “Ship of Fools” and “Message in the Box.” I then delved a little further and found the Private Revolution LP. I ripped them all and found myself completely satisfied with World Party, and so, with a little detour via BitTorrent, I have spent the week with headphones on listening to the collected works of World Party.
World Party is just Karl Wallinger, and are a fantastic mashup of all the usual sixties heroes: Beatles, Dylan, Kinks, Hendrix, and so on. He’s funnier though, much funnier. He doesn’t have to take the sixties seriously and only a fool would take 1986 seriously, and he’s not a fool. The pick of the bunch is “Ship of Fools” which is as hearty a condemnation of the eighties zeitgeist as you’re likely to find, belittling Thatcherism with considerable zest: “Using all the good people for your galley slaves/As your little boat struggles through the warning waves.”
There were a couple of more albums after Private Revolution, Bang! and Egyptology, which were more of the same: witty, erudite and queerly funky acts of theft from the glittering greats. If Private Revolution is a very sincere bit of flattery toward Lennon and McCartney then Goodbye Jumbo is the same for Dylan. As a result it sounds a touch more playful and less interested in us getting the jokes, but also less purist. There’s a lot to like:
Bang! and Egyptology were rich tapestries of rock classicism but they also sound a more produced. Indeed Wallinger himself became more of a producer figure, doing the music for Reality Bites and a couple of stage musicals. In 2001 he had a brain aneurysm which left him unable walk and talk for some years. Over recent years he’s recovered and made it back on stage and into the studio, producing some new songs and appearing at South by Southwest.
When I listen to World Party today I can remember that what I liked about it, way back in the eighties, was that it sounded whole. It sounded connected and attached to the world, it knew where it stood. When I listen to it now I can refine that analysis a bit, it doesn’t sound needy. The sense of completeness, a maturity that knows what it is about, and how it came to be, is compelling. The records sound even better now.