Goodbye Jumbo

Goodbye Jumbo

There has to be a reason that so few young ‘uns have heard this timeless little pop gem — dubbed the best album of the 90s by more than one critic, and beloved by a small but loyal group of fans. In fact, Goodbye Jumbo may have just been too good to be a conventional hit: too many great songs, too many classic influences, too many melodic hooks, all produced within an inch of their life and stuffed on top of each other with barely room to breathe in between. If it’s true that (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot) good musicians imitate, great ones steal, Karl Wallinger is going to jail for songwriting genius. Witness the Jaggeresque “woo woo” backing vocals at the end of the janglified “Sympathy for the Devil” homage “Way Down Now,” the funky Prince-style dance groove on “Show Me to the Top,” or the witty Beach Boys harmonies adorning “God on My Side,” a pretty little ballad about fundamentalism and culture clash that sounds fresher than ever in a post-9/11 world. But there’s more going on here than a Lenny Kravitz-style appropriation, or even postmodern pastiche. Listening to Goodbye Jumbo is a bit like eavesdropping on the conversation in Karl Wallinger’s head, one that just happens to feature the Revolver-era Beatles chatting up Al Green about God, world peace, and that lover who got away.

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