Album Review: World Party — Egyptology

World Party’s fourth album was also its best. Karl Wallinger’s skillful distillation of his influences – a dazzling grab-bag that included Sly Stone, Van Morrison and the Beatles as mere starting points – was at its apogee with this 15-song collection. 1997’s Egyptology was originally released in the U.S. on a label called The Enclave; unfortunate timing saw its release concurrent with the label’s shutdown; distribution suffered as a result, and rave reviews didn’t translate to sales.

Highlights are numerous, with Wallinger deftly serving up rockers (“It is Time”), hypnotic modern-day psychedelia (“Beautiful Dream”), dance tunes (“Strange Groove”), timeless ballads (the glorious “She’s the One”) and sweeping, cinematic compositions (“Rolling off a Log”). A touching if somewhat oblique tribute to Kurt Cobain (“Hercules”) ups the emotional content even further on this deeply personal yet universal record. The mesmerizing “Always” provides a dazzling, note-perfect ending for the record; so good, in fact, that World Party’s live shows in support of the album ended the same way, with musicians leaving the stage one by one as the music faded toward silence.

Everything about Egyptology feels like a record in the truest sense; a double-album, in fact. But because it was released during the period when the vinyl record had all but disappeared, the album was issued in North America only on CD and cassette. A UK-only vinyl release crammed the 15 songs onto a single platter; today, even in light of the compromised fidelity resulting from that over-stuffing, used copies change hands for hundreds of dollars.

Happily, as part of a reissue campaign that celebrates Wallinger regaining control over his back catalog, Egyptology is now being reissued, with the tracks spread out over three sides of vinyl, giving them room to breathe. Better still, the new reissue is appended with five live tracks from the Egyptology tour. Sadly, no “Always” or the beguiling “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb,” but splendid nonetheless.