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Karl Wallinger

DUMBING UP • World Party

The influences that Karl Wallinger wears on his sleeve are like medals of honor. A Beatle badge for melody, a Stones citation for rock 'n' roll looseness, a Dylan decoration for social conscience. In itself, wearing these influences is nothing remarkable. Plenty of bands have been doing that for eons. But Wallinger goes further. On albums like Goodbye Jumbo, Bang! and his latest, Dumbing Up, he channels the creative spirit and eccentricity of the great '60s artists that have inspired him.

When last we heard from Wallinger five years ago, he had been dropped from Chrysalis Records. His manager had died, then Karl himself collapsed from a brain aneurysm. The future looked bleak. He had surgery (or as he puts it, he had his "head sawed in half"), then relearned to walk, talk, and sing. This album was started before his collapse, and finished after his rehabilitation.

Though an acceptance of the unpredictable nature of fate has always been a theme of Wallinger's writing, songs like "Another 1000 Years," "What Does It Mean Now?"  and "See The Light" seem to speak directly to what he's been through. And "The Best Place I've Ever Been," though on the surface a simple love song, is a celebration of the miracle of everyday living, by a man who's been to the edge and back ("If you should fall, you won't need a song tomorrow").

Not that it's all zen and happiness. Wallinger being the activist he is, there's plenty of righteous anger too. "Who Are You?" and "Here Comes The Future" are flower-powered missiles aimed at the duo of Bush and Blair, and "Always On My Mind" is an acid-tongued letter to an ex-love. But like Mary Poppins, Wallinger believes in the spoonful of sugar approach to delivering these kinds of rants. The melodies are so strong that you may miss the lyric the first few times around.

Like all World Party records, Dumbing Up makes absolutely no concessions to modern trends. It sounds like it was made in 1968 on an analog tape machine with real instruments. That's not to say it comes across old or dated. It's more that it sounds timeless. • Bill DeMain

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