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20 août 2006

World Party boards musical 'ship' again

Karl Wallinger once led off a World Party album by singing, ‘‘it is time to remember/it is time to forget." After an extended absence from American shores, the celebrated Welsh musician wouldn't be surprised if you still referred to his Beatlesque pop and soulful rock band in the past tense.

Last March, Wallinger played his first U.S. gig in eight years at a music industry conference in Austin. ‘‘I didn't even know if anyone was going to be there, let alone remember any of the songs,'' recalled the World Party mastermind, in a phone interview from L.A. on Tuesday. ‘‘When I was greeted onstage by crazed fans who sang along with every word, it was fantastic and very moving. I was a bit gutted that night.''

Wallinger first gained fame playing bass and keyboards for The Waterboys from 1983-85. After a dustup with leader Mike Scott, Wallinger broke off to form World Party in 1985. Essentially a one-man-band early on, with Wallinger handling virtually everything, World Party released its socially-conscious debut ‘‘Private Revolution'' (featuring Sinead O'Connor) in 1987.

The group became a college/alt-rock radio favorite and had four top 10 hits in the mid-'80s and early '90s (‘‘Put the Message in the Box,'' ‘‘Way Down Now,''‘Is It Like Today,'' ‘‘Ship of Fools''). The latter was a top 40 single on the Billboard Hot 100. A decade later, Wallinger's layoff wasn't by choice. A series of unfortunate events put his life and career on hold. He recorded the title track to Edward Burns' 1996 flick ‘‘She's the One,'' but it didn't end up on the soundtrack. Then Robbie Williams secretly commandeered Wallinger's band to do a cover version and it climbed the U.K. charts. ‘‘Egyptology,'' the underrated 1997 World Party album, was met with a lukewarm reception. Then Wallinger left his record company and the band's manager died.

In late 2000, World Party released its fifth album ‘‘Dumbing Up'' independently in Britain and did a short promotional tour. Wallinger planned to secure U.S. distributor for the CD when he suddenly had a brain aneurysm the following February. ‘‘That closed down shop,'' he said. ‘‘I never got a chance to see how anything turned out. It was an aborted run.'' During rehabilitation, Wallinger had to slowly regain his speech and walking abilities, but mercifully still recalled the World Party catalog. He did suffer a loss of peripheral vision.

‘‘I'm pretty much back to normal except for being three times the size I used to be -- small problems (considering) a lot of people aren't around after this thing.'' Now Wallinger is back in business, celebrating the band's 20th anniversary and life in general. ‘‘I don't know of any other band that's had so little connection to the times they've been in ... there wasn't really a game plan when I started. I'm just lucky the songs have remained in people's heads.''

Recently, the entire back catalog was reissued on Wallinger's Seaview Records.‘Dumbing Up'' has been spruced up and includes a bonus DVD with all the videos and assorted goodies personally supervised by the artist. ‘‘It was meant to be something you could lose yourself in a bit,'' he said. ‘‘I couldn't put the same album out again over here. The diehard fans would already have it on import and they're the last people I want to (tick) off.''

Wallinger plans to release a new studio CD in May (‘‘I'm really looking forward to getting back in the studio; I've got so many ideas''). And a long-gestating collaboration from the '90s with Peter Gabriel and several Real World artists, ‘‘Big Blue Ball,'' is due later this year. Touring with the current band, a five-piece Wallinger said is the biggest he's ever played with, has been ‘‘incredible -- I didn't think I was going to be doing this ever again.''

(...) Writer : I read that "Big Blue Ball," your Peter Gabriel collaboration, will finally be released this year.

In the '90s, I went down (to Gabriel's Real World studios) for a few consecutive years. Peter got his Real World label artists and some producers -- Phil Ramone, John Leckie -- as well as Tim Finn, Jah Wobble and fiddle player Nigel Kennedy. It was an amazing blend of people. I was working with Peter in a room, we'd get a groove going and then we'd wheel all these people in from other parts of the studio. We also did songs with Sinead O'Connor. We kept layering people on there. It's taken this long to get it all organized. Every day, there was some mind-blowing musical event going on there.

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