The World/Inferno Friendship Society - This Packed Funeral (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The World / Inferno Friendship Society

This Packed Funeral (2014)

Alternative Tentacles

This Packed Funeral is World/Inferno Friendship Society’s comeback album. For those of you following the saga, the band’s last full-length, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy, was, by design, the band’s most melancholy release. Where they used to laugh with devilish glee as they ran from police and dallied with older women, they were spitting at old band mates and sitting at the side of the Raritan River, alone. There wasn’t any indication that the band was going to end per se, but as they withered down to a “paltry” five members, one did wonder if the sense of fun and mischief heard in their earlier releases have left the band in lieu of “growing up.” But now, along comes This Packed Funeral. The band is still mature, but now they are backed by a powerful sense of confidence and conviction. The result is the band's most ambitious album to date. The side effect, simply, is that once again the band is having fun. A lot of it.

World/Inferno has delivered concept pieces before, namely 2007’s Addicted to Bad Ideas. But, where that was a series of pieces focusing on one man, this release is a massive swing. Set at the wake of Grace Talicious, the singer for a band called The Paranoid Style who was recently hit and killed by a bus, the album presents ten songs that are either from the perspective of people at Talicious’ funeral or covers of The Paranoid Style. But, like the best concept LPs, Packed Funeral can be dissected line-by-line, trying to parse out meanings behind meanings, (such as “No people like show people/At least not any people I know” from “Dolce Far Niente") or it can be taken as just a series of songs. That is, there is story here, but it doesn’t bumble up the actual music with too many trappings or explanation.

Mirroring the thematic gambit, the band swings for the fences and sets their mark on their most cinematic construction to date. World/Inferno being World/Inferno, the band still bends three-ring circus sparkle around a big band core and drips classic punk thrashing between the cracks. But, here, more than ever before, is a celebration of the golden age of Hollywood entertainment. “This Packed Funeral” is propelled by what sounds like a full string section. “So Long Saving Grace” (which is one of the band’s best songs ever) gains its fire from a muted trumpet that twists just behind vocalist Jack Terricloth’s smooth tenor. This is more Treasure of Sierra Madre than it is Rocket to Russia.

And that’s what sets this album apart from the band’s previous work. On the early chargers like “I Wouldn’t Want to Live in a World Without Grudges,” half the excitement was seeing if the band could pull of their daring references to classic soul and Tommy Dorsey. But, here, there is no question. The band has lofty ambitions and its impressive, and even thrilling, to hear the band execute such grand vision with apparent ease and joy.

A great deal of this has to go to the group’s two main dueling vocalists. Terricloth, the group’s only permanent member, is in his The Main Event stage. One must be careful when comparing any singer to the Chairman of the Board, of course. But, The Main Event found Sinatra in his prime, executing his most daring feats in a way that made them seem like they were just natural things to do. They weren’t, of course, which is why that album is the definition of Sinatra. And here, Terricloth does the same. In fact, right off the bat he lets us know that he’s going for the gold. The album’s very first notes feature Terricloth solo running up and down the scale, reveling in his dulcet tones, but flashing his teeth just at the end of a phrase. Then, throughout Packed Funeral he strings out his notes more than ever before, assured in his skill and thriving in the zest of dynamic music like this. In fact, at times he flips between barbershop crooner, to musical lead, to operatic Hamlet. The fact that he does it with such ease shows that he’s having fun again, which in turn, makes the whole release one of the groups most raucous albums.

Bassist Sandra Malak, who actually has operatic training, counters Terricloth on a good number of tracks. She plays the part of the foil -- whereas Terricloth’s voice is fiery, Malak is cool. She’s as skilled at restraint as she is at bombast. When the two pair up on tracks like “American Mercurial,” the vast expanse of the album, from its pounding keys to the horns in the back, become apparent. This is a huge album in scope and depth.

Having been through tussles and bustles for the last two decades, World/Inferno has turned their focus inward. Instead of detailing how to steal stuff, now they are focusing on mortality and loss. This is heavy stuff, so a structured, ornate album is a fitting avenue for this lamentation. But, the fact that they can make this lamentation sound like so much fun, quite paradoxically, makes death sound like a party. Who knows if the band meant to take some of the fear away from the all-encompassing end, but either way, there are two lessons to be pulled from Grace Talicious: Don’t hold grudges against friends and party it up while you can. Who knows when the Grim Reaper will run you down while driving a bus?