End of the World Party (just in case) – Medeski, Martin, and Wood
Blue Note Records 7243 5 95633
As one half of the production team known as the "Dust Brothers," John King has a pretty impressive batting average. He hits a lot of home runs. The Dust Brothers' first real commercial success was with Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing" in 1989 and, since then, just about anything the producers touch literally turn gold, then platinum. More impressive than their commercial sensibility, however, is their artistic one. Judging from their back catalog, they push art, not sales — and, in the process, perhaps boost both for the artists they work with. They modernized the notion of sampling with the Beastie Boys' Paul’s Boutique and then, of course, delivered a Sgt. Pepper’s to Beck in the form of Odelay.
And now King brings his royal touch to Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Credited as the fourth songwriter on all 12 tracks, King acts as a virtual fourth member of the band, and the result, End of the World Party (just in case), is MMW’s best album in years. It’s certainly one of their most realized.
For a long time, MMW has chased an elusive target, which is fitting because they're an elusive band. They've long sought to combine their high jazz roots with frenzied dance music, and that much they've done successfully for nearly a decade. But there are greater complexities, contrasts, and paradoxes within their music that has often lopsided the band as they leaned into particular curves. Around one corner they would transform into a jamband-friendly groove machine; around the next they would become sonic jazztronauts exploring abstract universes. But the trio was never quite able to be everything they wanted to be, at the same time, all the time.
Enter John King. Exit End of the World Party (just in case). This is the disc MMW has tried to make several times, on their own, with slightly less success. Those albums were often great. But this album is spectacular. And the difference, let there be no doubt, is John King.
End of the World Party (just in case) contains the haunted house atmospherics ("Anonymous Skulls"), the hipster soundtracks ("Curtis"), the Latin-funk ("Mami Gato"), and the infectious jazz-hop ("New Planet") that MMW is known for. Guitarist Marc Ribot guests on four of the tracks, one of which, "Sasa," also includes the Sex Mob horns and is of an undeniably dark, though celebratory, mood. Billy Martin explores Afro-informed beats, Chris Martin delivers ever-erotic bass lines, and keyboardist John Medeski remains the mad tone scientist – with two hands and four brains – that he’s always been. What King does is bring it all together under one roof without any leaky spots or structural inconsistencies. While it covers lots of ground, the album flows seamlessly.
Inevitably, any proper review of this album must include some goof on its title, and while the first draft of this review had a few cheesy puns, I've deleted them in favor of this equally awkward thought: I may never really attend an "end of the world party," per se, but I'm going to listen to this disc religiously between now and the November elections just in case.