13 June 2021 (released)
27 July 2021
What at first glance appears to be a collection of adult contemporary style lounge ballads, erupts into a cornucopia of Broadway mixed with psych-tinged alternative. All this is told from the vantage point of a man with a front-row seat to polite, elevated society, whose struggles and setbacks have given him a critical yet poetic view of the upper-middle class.
A Wonderful World is the impressively polished debut of Wise John who has collected his stories from a life of travel, career achievements, and chronic illness. He took up residence in Orange County during the pandemic where he rode out the storms both global and personal. A Wonderful World is a sardonic observation from an outsider in the inner circle. Viewing the ups and downs of the unburdened class with sarcasm but ultimately, a sentimental love. The album is led by his tickled ivories and silky voice but is supported by producer Alex Strahle's instrumentation as well as a tight backing band and background singers with range and power. The album has the jaunty theatricality of McCartney and Elton John with the alternative edge of more modern rockers.
'Won't Somebody Let This Caged Bird Fly?' is a vulnerable plea from Wise John's hampered perch. A wistful piano ballad that sets the scene of always looking on, longing to be included. A late-night lounge lament. 'Leaving L.A.' picks up for a bouncy, fuzzy tribute to the love/hate relationship with the City of Angels. Gospel chords meet indie alt-rock production. 'Always Be the King' sticks out with a tag riff that recalls The Bends-era Radiohead. An odd key riff with moderately distorted guitars. There's something in the production of these tracks that also feels like Jon Brion, the famed producer who shaped Fiona Apple's first few albums, worked with Rufus Wainwright, and composed many idiosyncratic film scores.
The title track sees Wise John at the height of his powers returning to the lounge vibe with another observational ditty about “fine little restaurants with bookings for two/Ralph Lauren Polos, black dresses, cute shoes/What a glimmering pageant to show off our wonderful world”. A critical yet affectionate look at the privileged class. Is this cycle of decadence a cardinal sin or merely the reward for the deserving?
'The Fall of Rome' is the album's ambitious centrepiece. It has a theatrical pacing like a Broadway showpiece with a slice of darkness. The background singers do much to lift this track into the stratosphere with a climax that blows the roof off the playhouse. 'Pretending to Sleep' settles back into the album's resting heart rate with a Spoon-inspired plunker. 'Borderline' closes out the album bringing fingerpicked guitar into focus for a reflective finale.
Wise John's debut is expertly crafted, a tribute to a talented player and thoughtful production. He takes the listener on a tour of his world, the friction between the perfection of his surroundings and his own personal troubles. Any dark or ugly parts are glossed over by his effortlessly smooth playing. Certainly a metaphor for the word he portrays.