Album Review: Anthony Worden & the Illiterati — ‘How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere?’

In 1968, the Turtles released the album The Turtles Present the Battle Of The Bands, a cartoonish concept album that yielded the hit “Caroline.” Every song on the album was by a different invented group, each with its own style.

Anthony Worden’s October release with the Illiterati, How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere?, brings that Turtles record to mind, because each song on it constructs a specific sound recalling an array of particular musical moments from throughout the 20th century.

Album opener “How Long?” starts out in Steely Dan territory, although Elly Hofmaier’s lead vocal is in the vicinity of Chrissy Hynde. “Jean” mashes up early Elvis Costello and the Clash, “Beetle Box” sounds like Pink Floyd with a side of Low. “So Many People” brings a bit of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s sad mopey balladeer.

“My Exploding Plastic Heart is Sweeter Than Reason” combines the Beach Boys with the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone” and “Sad Stories” sounds like Jackson Browne singing with the Beach Boys.

“Execution” — again with Hofmaier’s tough-as-hell vocals — has a thrashy Sonic Youth feel. But Worden and bandmate Avery Moss are better pop songwriters than Thurston Moore.

It’s fun to play MadLibs with band names to describe these songs, but it’s unfair. The songs stand on their own, worth repeated listening, full of pop craft, elegantly arranged. The lyrics are full of Easter eggs, pointing directly at the giants whose shoulders Anthony Worden is standing on — so it’s clear he’s consciously playing the game.

The opening track lyric “How long was this going on?” nods to the 1973 Ace song “How Long.” The next line, “Remember when your aim was true?” tips the hat to Elvis Costello. “Jean” has the line “In your pale blue eyes,” hinting at the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and “Nothing More” almost quotes Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”: “Tonic then the perfect fifth …”

Herman Hesse’s last novel, The Glass Bead Game, never explicitly describes that titular game — but its goal is artistic synthesis and finding hidden connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Worden & the Illiterati are at play on How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere?, but unlike the Turtles before them, they never stoop to mere parody. This is the pop music of the last century shattered, mixed up and assembled into a new mosaic.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 301.

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