World Party, Royal Albert Hall | New music reviews, news & interviews
World Party, Royal Albert Hall
Karl Wallinger's first big live performance in a decade impresses with a jukebox of superior songs
“A hurricane didn’t stop me getting here,” shouted Barry from Philadelphia, and there were plenty of hard core World Party fans for whom last night at the Albert Hall was a big deal concert – the first proper tour in 10 years, coming on the back of a brick-like five-CD box of unreleased material called Arkeology.
Karl Wallinger (who is for all intents and purposes World Party) had a good excuse – he suffered an aneurysm a decade a ago and for a while couldn’t speak. Last night, though, he was in fine voice. Wallinger never was starry, and certainly doesn’t look it – imagine Griff Rhys Jones as a rock star - but what people were here for was a jukebox of finely crafted pop songs.
There were a few mavericks who came to the fore in the 1980s or just before who were neither glossy and shoulder-padded nor avant-garde alternativists, but who adored pop and were clearly super-bright – Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Green of Scritti Politti being the obvious example - and Wallinger, although he never had huge hits, was part of that intellectual tendency.
A sign of great pop is the ability to infuse cliché with meaning
The DNA of the music, and Wallinger’s singing accent, are both mid-Atlantic, and the set started off like a dream bar band from somewhere like Ohio, weirdly reminiscent of pre-punk pub rock with David Duffy’s fiddle adding a country swing. There were Beatles-style harmonies, Laurel Canyon flourishes on his minor hit “Is It Like Today?” and antique soul. A sign of great pop is the ability to infuse cliché with meaning, with choruses asking “How did it come to this?” or“ Is it too late?” somehow weighted with existential import.
In mid-set came the song that enabled Wallinger financially to survive his illness and off-the-road years: “She’s The One”, turned into a worldwide mega-hit by Robbie Williams. Lest we forget, Guy Chambers, who became Williams' co-writer, was once in World Party and some of his songs are distinctly Wallingeresque. There were at least a couple more songs here with which Williams could pole-vault up the charts, songs like “Thank You World” or even Wallinger’s first hit, the gloriously Homeric “Ship of Fools”. Somehow nostalgic, it is strangely put together and very clever, but still manages undeniably to be pop, it was the highlight of the night.
Wallinger alternated between guitar and keyboards and pretended to be chaotic. Behind him the band were highly polished without ever coming across as too slick, with Oasis drummer Chris Sharrock holding things together at the back, with a couple of terrific black singers as backing vocalists.
The concert contained a slight lull, with a country-soul-by-numbers song “Sweet Soul Dream” surprising with its generic banality, but things picked up with a bit of social commentary on “Vanity Fair”, then came a modicum of dirt and anger on the Dylanesque “Who Are You” (but not too much: Wallinger is Welsh after all). The emphasis throughout was on understatement. “I won’t leave it so long next time,” Wallinger said at the end, after 10 years off the road. Barry from Philadelphia was among those hoping he doesn’t.
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