Scott Walker


Scott Walker - Tilt ©1995 Mercury
1. Farmer In The City
2. The Cockfighter
3. Bouncer See Bouncer
4. Manhattan
5. Face On Breast
6. Bolivia ‘95
7. Patriot (A Single)
8. Tilt
9. Rosary

Perhaps the least likely album ever to be released by a person who once looked to Jacques Brel and Henry Mancini for material, Tilt is the most recent release (and first real album since 1984’s Climate of Hunter) of the enigmatic pop icon Scott Walker. His remarkably unprolific career has seen him go from hunky pop icon on the cusp of limitless success to a mysterious, reclusive artiste hell-bent on creating his own unique vision. Being that over three decades had passed since the young Ohio native uprooted himself to the UK (sending many girls swooning and influencing David Bowie and Bryan Ferry in such a profound manner that they both would adopt his singing style), it became all the more apparent that Mr. Engel is no longer the crooning balladeer of old. Equally haunting, unsettling, and beautiful, Tilt is a veritable cornucopia of jarring industrial, haunting ambient, atonal free-jazz, and minimalist classical in the vein of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. The end result is an emotionally draining and wholly darksome album.

Taking a cue from the likes of Coil, opening piece “Farmer in the City” is a chilling and tragic tribute to Pier Paulo Pasolini, and is probably the most straightforward song on the whole album. “The Cockfighter” starts out with some indecipherable warbling from Scott himself before exploding into an astonishingly intense, noisy industrial run. “Bouncer See Bouncer” plods along in a militaristic fashion before giving way to a glorious and majestic wash of keyboards. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the album is how organic and unpredictable the songs are. It is almost as if Walker took everything he ever learned about music theory and let his personal demons wrestle with it for a bit, leaving something that was strangely beautiful but not without a sense of ugliness.

Of course, one cannot review a Scott Walker album without mentioning his vocals. Scott Walker fans of old deplored the fact that not only did he totally abandon his full-throated belting of yesteryear, but also his sardonic wit. 1995 saw Walker adopting an operatic singing style that is not that far removed from what Roy Orbison might sound like if he took opera lessons from beyond the grave. His lyrics, as indecipherable as can be, bear absolutely no resemblance to that of Jacques Brel, or his own lyrics from albums past, for that matter. Personally, I find his performance to be absolutely fantastic, and I feel that the album benefits from his seemingly improvisational delivery.

Tilt is without question Scott Walker’s most challenging work and only the most adventurous of listeners should be so intrepid as to hear it. Its impenetrable nature doesn’t make it the most played album in my collection (I’ve been known to listen to his earlier recordings a bit more), but when I do pull it out, I am reminded time and time again that it is a resounding artistic achievement.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 01/2005

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The Drift

Scott Walker - The Drift ©2006 4AD
1. Cossacks Are
2. Clara
3. Jesse
4. Jolson And Jones
5. Cue
6. Hand Me Ups
7. Buzzers
8. Psoriatic
9. The Escape
10. A Lover Loves

Eleven long years after his genre-bending Tilt (which, in turn, was released eleven years after his mildly disappointing albeit still really odd Climate of Hunter), Scott Walker emerges again with The Drift. Seven years in the making, The Drift can be seen as a logical continuation of the sound he exhibited on Tilt, but, as fellow Scott Walker fans know, “logic” is not exactly the modus operandi of his recent music. I am going to go right out there and say it; Scott Walker’s The Drift is hands down the most harrowing album to be released in the last fifteen years. It is simultaneously harsher than any black metal album, stranger than any free-form avant-garde album, and darker than any doom/death album. More peripherally speaking, it adheres to a minimal aesthetic in a much more successful fashion than, say, any minimalist classical composer’s piece. The whole album sounds as if Bernard Herrman tried to compose the score for Psycho with John Zorn going in one ear and early Einstürzende Neubauten going in the other, all while reading the maddeningly disconcerting news of recent and past historical events. If that is too pretentious of a description, remember that Scott Walker has always proven that pretentiousness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and if one were to actually listen to the album, said description would not be too far off.

Utilizing a large cast of musicians in support of his voice, which, even after sixty-three years, sounds in fine form, Mr. Engel pretty much throws all traditional song structure out the window – Tilt still had shades of actual melody beneath the chaos – in an effort to create, as he calls it, “blocks of sound.” It is almost entirely atonal. “Cossacks Are” kick-starts everything with a malevolent guitar line that is then supplemented by a pulsating rhythm. I could say that it sets the tone for the whole rest of the album, but with music that seems as if it is in a constant state of flux, such a statement would seem useless. “Clara” utilizes “meatpunching” as a legitimate percussive technique. “Jesse” is the most chilling and formless song on the album. Closer “A Lover Loves” is a solo number that features Scott playing both acoustic guitar and singing and whispering “psst psst” between nearly every vocal line. It is probably the only song on the album that resembles a traditional “song”. Of course, Bernard Herrman-styled string arrangements are peppered throughout the album, and they are used in an equally disconcerting manner. Scott even employs a chorus of screaming children on “Hand Me Ups.”

The Drift is an album where vocal orchestration and lyric seem to exist as counterparts to each other. With that said, the lyrics are disturbing, thoughtful, dense, downright weird, and cover a wide range of subjects. “Cossacks Are”, as far as I can tell, describes a dead body. “Clara” tells about what Clara Mussolini dreamt the night before she and Benito Mussolini were killed. “Jesse” is about Elvis Presley having a conversation about 9/11 with his stillborn twin brother Jesse, ending with Scott Walker’s unaccompanied voice singing “I’m the only one left alive” over and over. Chilling, to say the least. “Jolson and Jones” ends with a competition between its narrator and “A Brogue” (don’t ask), each of them saying to the other “I’ll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway.” Of course, all of this is delivered with haunting dejection by Scott himself, whose croon, while not as booming as it was in the 60s, is still warm and deep, not to mention downright lonesome. Oh, and “The Escape” ends with Walker providing a really disconcerting Daffy Duck throaty sound.

Would it be safe to say that Scott Walker is the musical equivalent to J.D. Salinger? It is needless to say that I have never heard an album like this in my life, and I doubt I ever will again. People the world over can argue as to its greatness, but no one can deny The Drift’s sheer inventiveness. As for me, I find this to be the best album of the year…so far, anyway.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 07/2006

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