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World Party: Karl Wallinger, Always and the McCartney parallel

Updated: May 28, 2021

Rob Steen

So I sat in the attic, a piano up my nose

And the wind played a dreadful cantata (cantata, cantata)

Sore was I from a crack of an enemy’s hose

And the horrible sound of tomato (tomato, tomato)

Monkberry Moon Delight. Mad phrases, irredeemably bad title, but what lurked beneath was, for me, the best song by modern music’s master melody maker not co-written with the man whose name always preceded his on the credits. It may have struck some as perverse, if not hubristic, when The Greatest Living Englishman felt justified in including the lyric in a compendium of his own poetry. I’d rather characterise it as evidence of a still-spry sense of humour. If the gods can’t be hubristic, who can?

The bedroom conversation prior to the NYC recording session in October and November 1970 isn’t hard to imagine. ‘Ere’s a crackin’ idea, lovely Linda. How’s about doing something that’s a bit, y’know, Lady Madonna meets Hey Jude, plus a dash of Love Potion No9 by way of a sly nod to them lovely Leiber and Stoller blokes? Just to show I can damn well do what I bloody like with my own flippin’ songs. That’ll teach ’em for being such bitches about my first solo album.’

‘Sounds peachy, Paulie.’

‘Tell you what, pet. I’ll chuck in some nonsense words that sound fab, all right?’

‘Extremely cool, Daddy-o! And how about getting Heather in on backing vocals? You know how she calls milk monk and how much she’d enjoy singing Monkberry Moon Delight. Even though you and I both know that what we call monk is something to smoke, not drink. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, squire?’

Or something like that. The result was a surrealistic pillow of a boogie that inspired TGLE’s most uninhibited goose-pimpler of a Little Richard impersonation – Helter Skelter included. Aptly enough, it was covered on stage by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The compliment was not entirely undiluted. Out went Smokin’; in crept Sippin’. ‘I only sang that song but once, and that was only because Paul McCartney begged me to do it,’ recalled Screamin’ Jay. ‘But I will never sing that song again because it’s a drug song and I don't do no drug songs.’

I adore the fact that Macca’s 80th year has already given him excuses aplenty to hoist that trademark two-thumb, man of the people salute. Verily, an inspiration to us all. McCartney III, his latest needless demonstration that he still has something to show off and bop about, would be staggeringly good even if it had been recorded by someone with a zillion times more to prove. It’s the best album from TGLE I’ve heard since Ram, Monkberry Moon Delight’s parent LP, which turns 50 this month.

An astonishingly contemporary confection, with all instruments handled by the gaffer, McCartney III begat McCartney III Imagined. Chockful of duets with, and remixes by, cool dudes and dudettes such as St Vincent, Damon Albarn, Blood Orange, Ed O’Brien and Beck, it fell to the last to supply the standout, Find My Way.

Next up, Royal Mail will launch a set of stamps in his honour, making him the third modern muso to be so celebrated. I would so love to have been a fly on the wall while the cases were being made for David and Elt to precede him. Bet they were embarrassed. For one thing, the former Mr Linda Eastman stands as the most successful creator in UK chart history, writing or co-writing 188 entrants – 91 Top Tenners and 33 No1s. With more than a little help from his friends, he soundtracked the most pivotal and optimistic decade since the year before the year dot.

All of which serves as a prologue to the point. The greatest gift TGLE has bequeathed us is World Party. Or, more specifically, Mr World Party, Karl Edmond De Vere Wallinger, the Welsh wizard and multi-instrumentalist who cottoned on that the town called The Waterboys wasn’t quite big enough for him and Mike Scott. Cue a neo-solo career long on catchy tunes, innovative textures and change-the-world anthems. To these ears the package was what The Beatles might have sounded like had they remained unified. And not merely because Karl had the good taste to cover Cry Baby Cry, Dear Prudence, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and a few Moptopperies that weren’t on the White Album.

Even hinting that someone might be capable of carrying the mantle of the four kings of Scouseland is probably grounds for sedition. Still, over the past three decades yours truly has been fruitlessly suggesting precisely that to the uninitiated and blinkered. And the spark was lit by Karl’s update of an update of Monkberry Moon Delight, his own more intelligible and purposeful What Is Love All About?

He had composed it for Bang!, the third World Party album, juggling the instruments as usual, but for the superior alternate version, check out the compilation Arkeology. There it begins with the author’s nitrous-oxidised voice proclaiming – more out of bravado than conviction – that this magnificently joyous ditty would be an American No1. History had no right to prove him so hopelessly wrong.

The Wallinger train kept heading in the right direction only for a brain aneurysm to apply a shockingly sudden brake in 2001. For 15 years before that trauma Karl achieved something unique: he released five studio albums of almost equal lustre that somehow convinced this ageing hippie that progressive bop-rock hadn’t been murdered by Mark Chapman. Had those bards of Bard University, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, been less entranced by Buddy Rich than Buddy Holly, they’d have been proud to have called such a luminous canon their own.

Karl could reel off hits in his sleep, each lent a psychedelic sheen by a nifty video. Seeing a grinning Sinead O’Connor waggle her hips while singing back-up on Private Revolution is an especial treasure.

Marker-laying Ship Of Fools finds Karl singing preacher-style while Mike Scott, hatchet safely buried, performs the most manful of Ringo impressions, accompanied by ooh-oohs a-go-go. Is It Like Today?, another unanswerable question, could well be the prettiest and most elegantly orchestrated tune to adorn a song featuring a cri de coeur from Him Upstairs: How could it come to this? I really worry about my creation. How could it come to this? You’re really killing me, you know. Way Down Now is a fiendishly fine remix of Sympathy For The Devil spiced with nods to Mike Bloomfield in Highway 61 Revisited form. Yet the song that earned Karl the right to recover at his leisure from that aneurysm was a global smash hit for Robbie Williams: the ever-giving She’s The One.

By way of nominating an alternative to shove into someone’s life, I would dive without hesitation into Egyptology. On 13 of the 15 tracks on the penultimate World Party studio album, the only instrumentalist featured besides Karl is drummer Chris Sharrock, also credited with ‘northern vibes’. Beneath the master of all trades veneer lay diamond after diamond, most dazzlingly:

Rolling Off A Log: majestic oboe-infused Johann Strauss-meets-Van Dyke Parks post-waltz. As on all his best songs, the boss lets rip with that trusty hand-wringer.

So many fought the wars

And what was that all for?

They said between good and evil

Well, I think they lied a little

We live in a prison, somewhat of our own design

Grab the key, unlock the door

Then you’ll know what life is for

This World: secular hymn propelled by a mournful trumpet and a gently hypnotic tinkle of the keys, yet oozing positivism.

You keep on walking to the end

Gonna make it work in this world

Come back, start it up again

Gonna make it right in this world

Love every hour in the tower

Always: another keyboard-driven gem, rippling with skittering percussion and New Age vibes. A much more personal song for which I hereby invent a noun – ‘a lilter’. It also sounds suspiciously like a love letter to the mother of Karl’s children, the sculptor Suzie Zamit, whom one assumes inspired (football pun alert) She’s The One too. Karl’s tracklisting says it all: She’s The One comes fourth, Always last. He wasn’t wrong.

Look at me running while I bury what’s inside

Whence comes this feeling that there’s so much I should hide

The simple life is something I just want to do

The clock is ticking but I want to be with you

Always, always, always

Always, always, always

Always, always, always

Always, always, always

Always, always, always

Choosing one from that trio is tantamount to asking TGLE whether he’d rather be represented in the time capsule by Penny Lane, Yesterday or Helter Skelter. But what the heck. As the man almost said, we’ll always have Always.


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1 Comment

Jean-François Bouvard
Jean-François Bouvard
Mar 16, 2022

A pure genius . Every song on every album is beautiful

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