Overlooked album: The World/Inferno Friendship Society’s Addicted to Bad Ideas

Watching The Maltese Falcon again a few weeks back reminded me of The World/Inferno Friendship Society’s Addicted to Bad Ideas, a fantastic slice of cabaret-punk that manages to push most of my film- and music-geek buttons. Concept albums in general tend to intrigue me, but a concept album about 1940s and ’50s character Peter Lorre, tracing his ascent in Hollywood and his subsequent morphine addiction? In my ideal world, that’s the very definition of crossover hit.

To start things on the right foot, Bad Ideas opens with a genuine, honest-to-goodness overture, made possible by the up-to-33-piece backing band (which includes members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, among others). The skill that went into arranging that overture carries on through the rest of the album, albeit without the classical feel — it’s all pretty straightforward, structurally, but the Society’s particular brand of horn-led rock ‘n’ roll has a predilection for big hooks, unpredictable horn flourishes, off-kilter bridges and the occasional 5/4 interlude, just to keep things interesting. Not that the band really has trouble keeping your interest — there’s electricity in every performance, and the lyrics are killer, as in the last half of the rollicking “Ich Erinnere Mich An Die Weimarer Republik”:

(If a line like “You think your scene’s dead, well mine got killed/ By some dimwit’s Triumph of the Will” doesn’t sell you, I should probably stop trying right here.)

The sound that the Society has concocted is about as theatrical as contemporary rock gets — in a sense, it’s a lot closer to something like Meat Loaf than to anything out of the original punk movement, right down to the love of the occasional sax solo and bouts of overblown emotion. But Meat Loaf never gave shout-outs to the Wiemar Republic, or historical socialist movements, or Casablanca, and singer Jack Terricloth borrows more from classic lounge swagger than Loaf’s pseudo-operatics. I don’t know if that makes The World/Inferno Friendship Society more or less acceptable in music snob circles (for the record, I love them both about equally), but it certainly makes Bad Ideas an interesting oddity.

It may not be the most progressive piece of music, but the well-constructed rock album is something of a dying form, and Addicted to Bad Ideas is a rock-solid example of how to pull it off. All you need is an intriguing concept, varied arrangements and songs that never sacrifice intensity for intelligence (or vice-versa), and you end up with what is definitely one of my favourite straight-up rock albums of the last five years.

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