Archive for the ‘Experimental’ Category

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The magnificent awkwardness of Scott Walker is a quality that I most admire him for. Scott was the first pop star who refused to play the inane teen pop game and didn’t care to pander to commercial concerns, at least, not when he went solo. From big moody ballads, with a Spector-like widescreen production in the Walker Brothers, Scott delivered a unique debut album in the last autumn quarter of 1967 that was evidently at odds with the prevailing peace love and flowers pop zeitgeist.

He was the first western pop singer to bring Jacques Brel to a wider audience and a certain unknown singer called David Bowie was busy taking notes and would later re-visit some of Scott’s song choices,

Scott’s take on Brel’s ‘Jackie’ gave him his biggest solo hit single; the song was banned by the BBC, who deemed the lyric to be not suitable for a young pop audience with its homosexual referencing lyrics (‘Cute! In a stupid ass way!)

Then, there were Scott’s own compositions, which ranged from baroque vignettes to glimpses into outsider characters – ‘Montague Terrace (in Blue)’ was a song unlike any other at the time. What Scott insisted on was that pop could have philosophical depth as well as emotional resonance.

It didn’t insult your intelligence and it didn’t care too much if you didn’t quite get it.

‘Scott 1’ was a success and Scott’s transition from teen-pop idol to a kind of Frank Sinatra if he’d read Albert Camus and re-located to the left bank of Paris, was complete.

A second album followed quickly, with more of Scott’s unique songs and then there was ‘Scott 3’, an album that perfectly juxtaposed Scott’s torch song persona, with his own songs that were becoming more and more obtuse. ‘It’s raining today’ started with a droning dissonance that provides a startling interference with the song’s pretty melody. Despite inching further away from the mainstream with each release, he was given his own TV show, which ran for six episodes in 1969. The show was somewhat incongruous as it presented Scott as a middle of the road entertainer, duetting with Dusty Springfield for example, but it soon became evident he was left of the road with his song choices for the series, which included more dark chanson by Brel, alongside songs more associated with crooners like Tony Bennett with the odd contemporary composer like Tim Hardin thrown into Scott’s increasingly catholic mix.

The series was cancelled after its brief run, the BBC not really knowing how to pitch Scott. Who was he? The enigma continued to grow around him.

To make matters even more confusing, he released what has now become regarded as his solo masterpiece, ‘Scott 4’ in the closing months of that epicurean decade. It did nothing but alienate the light entertainment audience of his TV series and Scott found himself in an impossible conundrum, torn between his true art and the need to keep an audience.

To this purpose, he further confused his audience by seemingly reverting back to what was expected of him – lush, heart-yearning ballads that a middle of the road older audience would take to. (this was because he had contractual obligations to fulfill and not because he had an artistic volte face)

The problem was, his audience mostly ignored him, so Scott found himself in a wilderness for the next 5 years until he relented and agreed to a Walker Brothers reunion, around 1975.

Scott, although only barely into his thirties by this time, was now a pop veteran, ill suited to the more frivolous side of the 70s, just coming out of its Glam rock phase. Scott, with the reunited Walker Brothers, appeared on Top of the Pops, with the hit single ‘No Regrets’, as if it was a personal reflection on his artistic endeavours. Despite this slight career resurgence, the Walker Brothers didn’t follow through with anything particularly remarkable and looked set to tread the 60s has-beens circuit.

But Scott wasn’t going to be satisfied being a nostalgia whore. He threw another career curve-ball in 1978, with the release of ‘Nite Flights’ billed as a Walker Brothers album but it is Scott’s songs that are the centrepieces.

The songs, ‘Nite Flights’ and in particular, ‘The Electrician’ were elliptical pieces of electro-noir that nobody at the time could fathom. It was like The Carpenters has suddenly decided to go satanic heavy metal, as many still saw Scott Walker as a singer of big torch ballads from the 60s.

Indeed, by the early 80s, Scott’s mystique and outsider status as a pop weirdo was given a further push by Julian Cope of all people, who curated a compilation album called ‘Fire escape to the sky – the god-like genius of Scott Walker’.

Thanks to Cope’s determination to write a fitting resume of Scott’s artistic brilliance, a new audience – albeit a tiny one – were now discovering his solo albums which could be found in second hand vinyl shops and charity shops for very little money. Me included.

Scott re-emerged in 1983, on the Virgin label, with a new album ‘Climate of Hunter’. It was a startling mix of synthesisers and sparse, seemingly random songs, that went over the new shiny pop conditioned heads of the 80s and sank without trace.

Scott once again did another disappearing act and went back to his difficult shed in the obscure forest that nobody else but him lived in.

Like a ghost that had vanished into mist, he came back in the mid-90s, with his most radical work up to that point – ‘Tilt’.

It was an album that was impossible to categorise: often disturbing, challenging and downright weird. It was also hauntingly beautiful, as the deep sweeping strings of ‘Farmer in the city’ take you somewhere you’ve never been before.

Scott continues to not only push the envelope today, but also burn it.

His last studio album was as enigmatic and impenetrable as it was brilliant. Simply, nobody is making music as out there as ‘Bisch Bosch’.

As Scott said in an interview around the release of the album ‘I don’t see the point of mining seams of music that have been over-mined already’.

Long may Scott piss on the conventional and lead us to strange dark mines.

Amen.

*this article was written six months before the death of Scott Walker.