Anyone within spitting distance of a World Café broadcast lately will have become reacquainted with World Party via the Neil Youngish, ostensibly "new" song "What Does It Mean Now?" Even though the group's gone unheard in America since 1997 (when fourth album Egyptology was issued), the W.P. sound, characterized by a distinctive '60s vibe and leader Karl Wallinger's witty wordplay and easygoing tenor, is as unmistakable as ever.
From the outset, with the 1987 debut, Private Revolution, the book on Wallinger has tended to be Beatles-Dylan-Motown soul (by way of Prince). That's still true to a degree on Dumbing Up (Seaview), originally released in Britain in 2000 but, due to Wallinger's career temporarily coming to an aneurysm-fueled halt, is only now seeing US release. (Included is a bonus DVD of videos and live/studio footage.) It kicks off with "Another Thousand Years," whose arrangement for acoustic/electric guitars and mellotron-like keyboards plus spiky Lennonesque lyrics locates it squarely between The White Album's "Dear Prudence" and Abbey Road. Dylan fans will cheer "Who Are You?", a mouthy, rowdy talking-blues style number straight outta Blonde On Blonde territory. And Prince? Check Wallinger's sassy falsetto and the funky-soul groove of "Here Comes the Future"; a female rapper weighs in for additional urban cred.
There's plenty more, though, with Wallinger incorporating country- and folk-rock, gospel and psychedelia, making Dumbing Up the strongest W.P. collection since 1990's Goodnight Jumbo. I recall how, around that time, as CL's then-music editor, I wandered somewhat skeptically into a World Party concert at Spirit Square, fearing I'd be subjected to two hours' worth of retro navel gazing. Instead, I emerged a convert. Unlike, say, Lenny Kravitz, whose shameless era-fetishism makes him seem ridiculous, Wallinger comes off as sincere because he doesn't merely recycle influences -- he recasts and reinvents them.