Karl Wallinger
By: Devin McKinney | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Music, Pop Music

The sound of his music and the fate of his journey having become inextricably bound for me with humanity’s common course since 9/11, Welsh-born World Party front man KARL WALLINGER (born 1957) carries unusual importance in this fan’s emotional life.

Long before the terrorist attack, he struck a perfect meld of retro-futurist rock, soul, pop, and funk, Beatles-meet-Sly-meets-Buzzocks-meet-Spector-meets-little old Karl himself, the words personal and political, the music combative and explosive, truly a world music, a way of listening, feeling, outraging as the globe ground on its fractured axis. And such a commercial sound — how could Wallinger’s voice not break through to the millions? He played Wembley, Glastonbury, all the big UK dates. With the hits “Ship of Fools” and “Way Down Now,” with the marvel of 1990’s Goodbye Jumbo and the terrific albums surrounding it, Wallinger’s World Party climbed the precipice toward stardom.

Then things grew confused, and compasses read false. In 2001, soon after the long dark day itself, Wallinger was felled by a brain aneurysm. He disappeared. His recent music lingered, for me it was the very echo of the towers, but I assumed they were the last notes I’d hear from him. But five years later he came back, fighting — gently. In little clubs and boho pubs, one or two sidemen, acoustic instruments, nothing fancy. It has continued to be a fight: Wallinger has scheduled many shows only to cancel them “due to illness.” He has vanished periodically, for years at a time. Yet for all his veering, one feels no less invested. He has arrayed a lifetime’s worth of sweet soul dreams before the bovine stare of mass indifference. He has lived, nearly died, lived again. He has cursed and forgiven the damned human race a hundred times over.

Now he has released a multidisc career retrospective, Arkeology, and somewhere out there soon, in Austin or Nashville or Philly, he will be back again. If he makes it, I can almost believe, we will make it.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Divine.

READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–63).

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Devin McKinney is author of Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History and most recently, The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda.