A lot more people should really know who Karl Wallinger is. He left The Waterboys at exactly the right time and set up his own musical project under the catchy name World Party. He immersed himself in 60s influences a good five years before it became fashionable, releasing albums like 1990’s Goodbye Jumbo, but by the time retro pop was in vogue, he was nowhere to be found. He’d arrived at the party early, sat alone for a few years, popped out for a breath of air and by the time he had got back lesser talents had drunk the free bar dry. Damn.
Goodbye Jumbo is arguably World Party’s finest album and is so chocked full of great pop moments that it can get a little overwhelming, and it’s almost impossible to take it all in. Infact there’s so much good stuff here that here and there the songs can blur into each other, which is a real shame, because taken individually, each track has the potential to be a thing of wonder. As it is Goodbye Jumbo suffers from a running order which puts great material next to other great tunes which are just a little bit too similar. The songs that leap out are those with up-tempo melodies (“Put The Message In The Box”, “Show Me To The Top”), but the heartbreaking centrepiece of Goodbye Jumbo and the highpoint of World Party’s output is the emotionally fragile “And I Fell Back Alone”.
If you heard each of the songs on Goodbye Jumbo in isolation, each one could be considered a classic in their own right, but there’s something about the combination of these dozen songs, the sequence that they are presented in, and the fact that every now and then Wallinger could slip into a sort of nice, but not particularly creative, holding pattern, which means that Goodbye Jumbo will always fall short of its true potential for me.
Does this mean that Goodbye Jumbo should sit gathering dust, forgotten at the back of music collections? Not at all. For all its flaws, it still an album of intelligent, sophisticated guitar pop, and perhaps the best album-length distillation of what Wallinger’s World Party was all about, with its empathetic, informed world view and oblique references to eco concerns and all without getting preachy or talking down to its audience. Wallinger seemingly credited his audience with a certain level of intelligence, taste and self awareness, which is something that the behemoths of 90s guitar pop simply forgot to do. Looking back, the British music scene of the mid-90s missed Karl Wallinger and World Party far more than anyone realised at the time.