The World/Inferno Friendship Society
The Anarchy and the Ecstasy
One of the weirder aspects of my music collection is the fact that it took a Lifetime reunion show to introduce me to the great World/Inferno Friendship Society. I had always heard about this band, but when they started out they played at this terrible club that I hated going to and would pass on their shows. Then they stopped playing at that place when they toured and I guess played DIY spaces that I never heard about. But when I saw them open for Lifetime, I was totally taken in. They were nine deep with horns, percussion, piano and half charming, half creepy looking lead singer and all of them were dressed to the nines.
I went out and got Addicted to Bad Ideas when that album came out. It was incredible. A lot of fans seem really down on that album, but I think it’s the height of the bands out put. So many people contributed songs, including the former bassist Yula Berri. I mean they had a tight band, had some of NY’s best session musicians (including Beauty Pills Jean Cook on violin) and just played a most explosive set of songs. It was more than punk rock, more than the vaudeville they get tagged with, more than just jazz or big band. It was a massive album with fast songs, deep songs, rich songs. I loved every moment of it.
So of course I was really excited to learn that they finally had a new album out. It’s been four years since Addicted to Bad Ideas and a lot has happened. Namely two long time collaborators, guitarist Lucky Strano and alto sax player Maura Corrigan have left the collective. Further, it seems that the people involved in making the album has been stripped down to about six. All of this shows. Which is not a bad thing, it’s just a very hard thing to get used to. In the wake of these departures Sandra Malak, the dread locked, dynamite bassist has taken more of a lead role in the band, writing many of the songs featured on The Anarchy and the Ecstacy.
The other big change is that lead singer, Jack Terricloth handled the guitar duties, so once where there was blistering solos and heavily drenched in punk power chords, there is a more melodic and subtle addition. My favorite tracks are the one’s that seem like Terricloth wrote himself. There is the anthmatic “The Politics of Passing Out” which is a pretty standard Terricloth rager about being a passionate, drunk, wild man filled with romanticism. But somehow, in the absence of grandeur it doesn’t have the punch. I can imagine a fully packed stage this song being totally trashy, but on the album, though beautiful, it feels held back.
The other track, album closer, “The Might Raritan” is an acoustic number where Terricloth gets in all the nostalgia he can. He’s accompanied by piano and the awesome vocals of Malak. It’s a total beautiful moment on this album and within the canon, an extension of “Please My Favorite Don’t Be Sad” from Red-Eyed Soul. It’s such a perfect way to end this album, and despite its soft sounds, it’s the most powerful and energetic performance on the whole album.
In the absence of blazing guitars from Lucky or key smashing from Franz, the horn section, lead now by the bearded Peter Hess really takes center stage. They’ve always been blazing, but no longer do they have to compete with the electrified blazing of guitars. Instead they sit front and center and become a large focal point of the album. Combined with Malak taking more of a lead on vocals, we get a new version of The World/Inferno Friendship Society. It feels somewhat resigned, where the guitar intro of “Canonized Philip K. Dick, Okay?” should be loud and blasting, it instead sounds like it was wired through an 80’s boom box. The swing and jazz of the verse is beautifully executed, expected brilliance from The Society, but so much is taken away by a lack luster guitar part where it should hit you in the face.
I’m not disappointed with this album, though I do question some of the choices made in the studio. The song writing has never been this pretty for this band, the true talents of the players really shining through, rather than just being a rally of punk rock RPM’s. But it’s a sound that I need to get used to. I have a World/Inferno Friendship Society I can enjoy now with a book and a glass of wine. And maybe that’s Terricloth’s vision. A world of anarchists, punks and misfits, sitting in dilapidated arm chairs, wearing stolen slippers and thrift-store smoking jackets, sipping on box wine in squats and punk houses. Who says you can’t have a little class while still railing against the system.