ON THE RECENT MTV Music Video Awards show, the live performance by Karl Wallinger's World Party stood out among the Aerosmiths, Madonnas and MC Hammers. Not that the others were anything less than profesional, but none projected the pure, innocent joy of music evident in "Put the Message in the Box." World Party's post-psychedelic charm was both aural -- the song has a lilting folk-rock gait to carry its positivism -- and visual -- not only the band's thrift store apparel but Wallinger's bespectacled concentration. The whole package suggested unnaffected ecstasy.

"If you love something, there's a kind of joy in the fact that you're doing it and maybe that comes out," Wallinger said last week from the road that will bring him to Lisner Auditorium on Sunday. "I really do love making music. There's a moment where you've actually first recorded something that you really like and you're trying to get it right and if it goes right, there's a moment where you forget you've got a body and that's a great feeling.

"Maybe all music's just a celebration of that."

That moment -- which obviously exists in performance as well -- is at the heart of "Goodbye Jumbo," World Party's second album. A pure pop celebration, it reflects Wallinger's crucial influences, from Bob Dylan, the Kinks, Beach Boys and Rolling Stones (check the "Sympathy for the Devil" homage in "Way Down Now") to the Beatles ("Sgt. Pepper" blew his mind at age nine). "Jumbo" is a classicist's work, with classic (therefore familiar) references, but it's not an excercise in nostalgia as much as it is a working appreciation. Like other roots-proud futurists -- Prince comes to mind -- Wallinger has managed to temper obsession with originality.

Still, "Jumbo" was three years in the making, reinforcing Wallinger's reputation as a studio-obsessive (not hard to do, since, like Prince, he wrote, produced and played most of the instruments in his secluded London studio). Wallinger chuckles at that reputation, which casts him as a musical detective deciphering '60s masterworks in search of the missing chord change. That's why the album's cover -- a photo of Wallinger in a psychedelic shirt with a John Lennon-ish Rickenbacker guitar -- may be both innocent and insouciant. Of course, he does use a number of period instruments -- including a McCartney-style Hofner bass purchased (ahem) in Liverpool -- but Wallinger suggests such obvious tangents are really just "a way for writers to write about the Beatles and the Stones."

"It's a bit like that, but a lot less conscious," he says of the art of homage. "I do have a great feeling for particular types of music. Not particular decades -- I {don't care} what the date is -- but the kinds of music, the way they were made and the attitude they were made with. That's where it ends and apart from that I just love making music."

Wallinger's a Welshman who as a teenager played with several musicians who became the Alarm, the Ultimate Welsh Band. Despite the shock of "Sgt. Pepper," he says he was late-blooming musician. "I was a punter, and I would sit at the piano, had a book to write my own songs. I was always doing that but I didn't really have any idea of how to do it. That was really quite late coming.

Part of the problem may have been the times the 32-year old Wallinger came up in, that late '70s cusp when rock dinosaurs bred a punk rebellion and pop craftsmanship suddenly seemed irrelevant. "By that time, I was fairly on top of music, enough to dig some of the things that were happening, like the Bunnymen, a bit of the Clash, but I never had the six-inch nails through the front of me head either," Wallinger recalls.

"I thought, 'Well, this is the way the world is going' -- at least it seemed like that. But the music I made came from a very personal place, and I didn't think the world should revolve around my particular memories. It's weird that we seem to have collided again, because I don't really feel like I've changed what I've always thought that much, it's just that it seems to be fashionable again, or whatever."

Before becoming World Party, Wallinger spent several years and albums with the Waterboys, but it was apparent he'd have to strike out on his own to express his particular point of view, a heady mix of cockeyed optimism and experience-bred cynicism topped with contemplative lyrics.

"I like to manipulate ideas, turning things around," Wallinger concedes, "though I don't like using long words. I like writing pop songs and I'd rather say it in a four-letter word than a 20-letter word. I try to avoid direct, heavy handed, ecologically conscious songs -- I'd rather say something vague like 'Put the Message in the Box.' What is the message? Basically it's got to work as a pop song and if doesn't work on that level, you don't get that sort of catharsis of the music having the emotion. The moment in 'Box' where it goes 'the world says give a little bit of your love to me' . . . I love that bit."

If the two World Party albums are mostly Wallinger multi-tracked, the eight-member band performing at Lisner Sunday offers new energies and possibilities. "Obviously you need to have a sympathetic feeling towards the same background music," Wallinger says. "This lineup is far more on the same beam than any band I've ever been in and it's the best band I've ever been in, playing-wise.

"Some of {the songs} are starting to go even better. Because we're like-minded, we're actually getting things out of them that the record was only hinting at. As time goes by, it's great when things work the way you think they might, or the way you suggest they might, because that means that people trust you a little more, and also you trust yourself a lot more and that means you're not going mad."

Still, one might think the perils of live performance would be heightened for an admitted studio hound -- after all, there are no alternate takes or multi-track options on stage. But, Wallinger says, "when I play live, I'm not looking for the perfect performance of a particular song -- 'it's got to be like this, otherwise everybody's fired or fined!' Playing live, you've got a room full of people and you've all got to have fun together, experience something that's uplifting together."


Appearing Sunday with Jellyfish at Lisner Auditorium. Call 800/543-3041.