End Of The World Party (Just In Case)
Blue Note, 2004
REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/28/2009
The first time I heard Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW) live was an amazing experience. My brother took me for my fifteenth birthday. Never before had I seen a performance of this caliber (or if I had, I did not realize it). Consisting of John Medeski on keyboards, Chris Wood on Bass, and Billy Martin on drums, I was impressed by their mixture of professionalism and experimentalism, structure and improvisation. MMW always had the ability to sound progressive within a framework of well-thought arrangement and melody. Unfortunately, End Of The World Party (Just In Case) captures very little of this, mistaking strange for inventive.
It being the End Of The World Party, I expected the album to be eccentric. But there is the 2001: A Space Odyssey strange and there is your postmodern, boring student art film strange. End Of The World Party is more like the latter. Take the opening track, “Anonymous Skulls.” At first, I enjoyed the creepy vibe, the video game melody, and the musical layers of this electro-death ode. But the novelty only lasted a minute before I found myself bored and ready for the next song. It is almost as if Billy Martin and Chris Wood decided to just lay a groove while John Medeski makes strange sounds on his piano, organ, and keyboards. Experimental? Yes. Boring? Undoubtedly.
Most songs on this disc follow a similar format. “Curtis,” for example, starts with a hip, feel-good groove reminiscent of 1970’s Stevie Wonder. Again, it quickly turns into an uninteresting, cluttered mess. Style over substance does not make for an enjoyable listening experience. “Sasa” follows a similar fate. Although containing a killer, Sly Stone-sounding motif, this does not make up for the rest of the song: ambient, weird, unfocused, and boring. While being the only song to contain horns, MMW does not let them take a prominent part of the song. A horn solo would at least allow the listener to hear something other than sci-fi keyboard sounds over a trite funk groove.
To be fair, not all of End Of The World Party is musical garbage. The zombie-funk of the album’s title-track provides a fun way to experience the Apocalypse, albeit not as fun as Prince’s rapture-party (listen to “1999”). “Shine It” emanates the instrumental R&B-jazz of the 1960’s Cannonball Adderley Quartet, and “Queen Bee” brings back the pop-jazz style of Sergio Mendes and Booker T. Featuring Marc Ribot on guitar, “Queen Bee” is the best song on the album and is a must single for any MMW fan.
These three gems, though, do not save this insipid work. Pretentious, boring dribble is an apt description for this dreadful work. While MMW remains one of my favorite bands, this boring, style over substance album will and should be forgotten in the entrails of their other, more enigmatic work.