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Review: World Inferno Friendship Society’s “The Anarchy and the Ecstasy”

February 9, 2011

Jack Terricloth, tireless suit wearing frontman for cabaret-punk iconoclasts World/Inferno Friendship Society, has traveled great literal and spiritual distances to be where he is today. A teenage Terricloth grew up in suburban New Jersey, moving to New Brunswick and playing in hardcore bands before settling into Brooklyn. Assembling his band in New York City in the 1990s, he’s spent over two decades pouring passion and sweat into establishing Inferno as one of America’s most chaotically enthralling live acts and relentlessly ebullient recording artists.

Terricloth’s odyssey has been so dogged and so deeply felt that it has become the great subject of his art itself. Much like its predecessors, World Inferno’s newest studio album, the aptly titled The Anarchy and the Ecstasy, is largely about the experience of being World/Inferno, about overcoming authority in order to carve out a vibrant, warts-and-all space where life can be celebrated and differences cherished. In songs like “Politics of Passing Out”, “The Apple Was Eve”, and “Thirteen Years Without Peter King” Jack seems more polemical street philosopher and positivist guru than conventional rock frontman, refusing to put any distance or irony between himself and his artistic creations.

In the past, the band has rarely allowed songcraft to get in the way of their manic exultations of joy and frenzied bouts of soul-searching. That changes somewhat with The Anarchy and the Ecstasy, as the Inferno places a newfound emphasis on nuance and dynamics, in contrast to the always-in-fifth-gear MO that has defined the band. Results are mixed– “The Mighty Raritan” offers lovely accordion and a weary, haunting refrain, but the midtempo “I am Sick of People Who Are Sick of My Shit” feels flat and perfunctory, while the lugubriousness of “They Talk of Nora’s Badness” actually undermines Terricloth’s harrowing, poverty-tinged lyrics.

Mr. Terricloth’s emboldening exhortations and the band’s sweatily democratic live show make it clear that the World/Inferno Friendship Society  wish to foster a massive brotherhood of open-hearted partiers. Such non-stop full-throttling might work for punk-rock true believers, but the band’s inviting uniqueness ensures that its admirers will be more far-flung than that, and most of us don’t want to spend our entire lives in the red. In that context it makes sense for Jack and the group to try taking a more multifarious approach, but honestly it just doesn’t play to their strengths. I may only want to join his raucous shindig every now and again, but its nice knowing he’s always somewhere tearing the roof off.

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