Friday, June 17, 2016

World Party 4: Egyptology

One of the bigger movie soundtracks of 1994 was the one for Reality Bites, which mostly put Lisa Loeb on the map. But tucked away in the first half was a new song by World Party. Casual listeners might have overlooked it, because “When You Come Back To Me” is very much a sonic homage to David Bowie’s “Young Americans”. (A piano-driven cover of “All The Young Dudes” was on the Clueless soundtrack the following year.)
Karl Wallinger hadn’t overtly aped Bowie before, or at least not to this level, and the song was not included on the next World Party album. Still mostly a one-man-band affair, Egyptology was put together over a four-year period, during which Wallinger’s mother died and he was dropped from his label. The label that did pick him up was folded into another shortly after the album’s release, so it never really got a chance to succeed on its own.
The usual sounds are here: Jagger-style vocals, Dylanesque rhymes, Beatlesque arrangements, a little funk. A live drummer is used on most of the album, which is a big help; the ones he plays himself have improved, as have the machines used to make the rest. More than anything, however, the songs are strong, and not merely experiments in genre.
Normally, “It Is Time” would be another argument for the prosecution that a list is not a song, but it’s just so catchy. “Beautiful Dream” balances two hooks very well, and while “Call Me Up” sounds like it was mostly written while the tape rolled, the detour about “those bits in the middle” is very clever. “Vanity Fair” seems to evoke mid-‘60s chamber pop in a cautionary tale about who knows what, but the big production is pulled out for “She’s The One”. It may or may not have been intended for the movie that ended up with a Tom Petty soundtrack, but it sure comes off like a big anthem. Amazingly, Robbie Williams made it into a hit a few years later, which is likely how Andy Williams came to hear of it. A layered “Swingle Singers” vocal arrangement sets up “Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb”, a torrent of angry rhymes over almost as angry soloing, and a requiem for the late Mrs. Wallinger. The anger gives over to sorrow in “Hercules”, faded up in progress, more soloing over major-sevenths and minor-sevenths on piano and string synth and appropriately sloppy drums.
The balance of the album doesn’t seem to be designed as deep, but still delivers. “Love Is Best” continues the melancholy mood, and “Rolling Off A Log” continues the faux-baroque stylings of “Vanity Fair” with a reprise of the earlier vocal interlude. “Strange Groove” was likely the title of the track before it got lyrics, and while slight, doesn’t get too dull. “The Whole Of The Night” takes an idea from the Bowie textbook, that of welcoming aliens to our planet, but we can’t place the musical influence. “Piece Of Mind” is another excuse for a jam, just as “This World” revives ‘80s synth horns and aspects of “Love Street” from Goodbye Jumbo, which is fine with us. The album has to end with “Always”, another groove but one that repeatedly insists “I gotta go”.
Egyptology is an hour well spent with solid, enjoyable tunes and a lot of hooks. Besides being one of Wallinger’s better albums, it was also one of the better albums in a year full of good ones. Grab it if you can find it.

World Party Egyptology (1997)—4

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