Scott Walker (born Noel Scott Engel; January 9, 1943 – March 22, 2019) left the earthly plane this spring.
I’ve never listened to his critically acclaimed solo albums, so I figured, perhaps a fitting tribute would be to listen my way through as many of his albums as I could (easily) find.
Scott Walker first came into the public’s eye as the front man for the American Pop Group, The Walker Brothers. Their two biggest hits were “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”.
After departing the Walker Brothers he launched his solo career with the album “Scott”, aiming a bit away from his mainstream pop music past, and more towards world weary Jacques Brel cabaret. In fact, his English versions of Brel’s songs were some of the highlights of his early work.
His next album, “Scott 2” continued in the same vein, with even more Brel tunes and a bit of a folk tinge.
Funny, no matter how pleasant the musical arrangement or how mellifluous his baritone voice, he cannot resist twisting the knife of weirdness with his lyrics.
Also he really seems to like singing songs about prostitutes and brothels.
“Scott 3” is a far more consistent album than the previous two. Plus, I’ve had it on repeat all morning and haven’t noticed a single mention of prostitutes or bordellos.
It seems like this is the album where he first got everything together, there are some pretty great songs and very good vocal performances.
Oddly, “Scott 4” was actually Walker’s fifth album, but “Scott Walker Sings Songs From His T.V. Show”, his actual 4th album, is not easily available.
While Walker’s earlier albums felt like they could be made almost any time in the 20th Century, Scott 4 has its feet firmly in the 1970s.
On many songs he jettisons cabaret stylings for electric guitar and rock vocal tropes. “Boychild” and “Duchess” are the stand outs here. “Boychild”, in particular, provides a template for much of the record label 4AD’s early sound.
On the previous “Scott 4”, Walker had added a new voice/persona to his arsenal, that of the pop jazz vocalist. Unfortunately, he continues that persona for several songs on “til the band comes in”, sounding like a dime store Tony Bennett. Particularly bad are the songs where he attempts to imitate African-American speech patterns. Embarrassing.
That said, “The War is Over” is as good a song, and performance, as any other he had put to vinyl up to this time.
Walker’s record label had been increasingly frustrated with the sales of his solo albums. After “Scott 4” and “til the band comes in” failed to chart, they saddled him with increasingly onerous producers and projects. When none of those worked out, eventually they dropped him. He found other labels and even participated in a reunion of “The Walker Brothers”. After a few albums from the reformed Walker Brothers, Walker dropped out of sight for about 10 years and didn’t release any recordings until 1984’s “Climate of Hunter”.
The first thing that struck me is the center of his voice has moved. On the early records he’s a chest/throat singer. On Hunter, his voice has moved to his head. Also, he is singing with a consistent persona, rather than flitting from one to another from song to song.
Musically, it reminds me a bit of Brian Ferry albums from this period, but without the backup singers. Interestingly, Evan Parker provides soprano sax parts on a couple tracks!
Lyrically, he has really found his voice, though I would be hard pressed to tell you what any of the songs are about.
The only distracting thing are a few horrible mid-1980s style guitar solos.
Overall, it feels more compelling, and, perhaps, honest, than any of his earlier albums.
I’ve been listening to “Tilt” exclusively for two days now and I don’t really feel any closer to understanding it.
It feels alien yet compelling. I’ve no idea what any of the songs are about, but the words seem to make some sort of dream-like sense.
The same with the music, light classical might be alongside samples of power drills or feeding back guitars.
Some sort of hermetic watershed or culmination of his work up to this time. Eerie and astounding.
Someone really should have warned me about “The Drift”. This is one of the darkest pieces of artistic expression I’ve ever run across. Seriously. And I’ve read some dark shit.
This is going to haunt me.
I’m gonna be seeing the flayed and dismembered bodies of various animals out of the corner of my eye for weeks.
Reminds me of some of Ben Wheatley or John Hillcoat’s early movies.
The lyrics on “Bish Bosch” are nearly as opaque and gruesome as its predecessor “The Drift”, but somehow there’s an air of humor over the proceedings that makes it a bit less of a claustrophobic ordeal.
In fact, the longest song, “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)”, clocking in at over 20 minutes, is pretty much nothing but a series of, often unaccompanied, well, I hesitate to call them “jokes”, but, at least, shaggy dog stories. The stories in sequence, one after another, as not-quite-jokes, actually gets funny, after a while, in the way William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” is “funny”.
Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome.
Bish Bosch seems to bring together Walker’s early obsession with the world weary cabaret songs of Jacques Brel and fuse their sensibility with the gruesome black humor of his later work.
It’s not exactly pretty, but it works.
I guess if you were only familiar with Scott Walker’s work with the Walker Brothers or his early solo work, you might be a bit surprised by “Soused”. Handsome “Pop Singer” works with bearded, robe wearing, drone metal dudes!?
On the other hand, if you’d only heard Walker’s Tilt, The Drift, and Bish Bosch, you’d be, like, why didn’t this happen sooner? It would have prevented those bad 1980s guitar solos on “Climate of Hunter”!
Anyway, this is mostly Walker, with the Sunn O))) boys providing the correct atmosphere for his bleak, gruesome songs. Pretty Great, if you are a fan of Walker’s later work or Sunn O))).