FINDING something to write about before Christmas shouldn’t be a problem for any music critic.
Most magazines are full of the usual end of year polls, which although useful for picking out prospective Christmas presents, do not really add to the sum of human happiness.
One album which will probably be on most writer’s lists, although probably not one that will be flying off the shelves as a result, is Scott Walker’s latest Bish Bosch.
Walker’s career is one of the marvels of pop music. He grew up in Texas, New York City and Southern California but found fame in mid-1960s England as part of the Walker Brothers. A truly brilliant vocal trio, the Walker Brothers (who were not related) married soaring vocal harmonies, Spectoresque production techniques, Spaghetti Western soundtrack arrangements and a decidedly dark lyrical worldview into one uniquely melodramatic package. They’re rightly remembered for Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore) which both hit number one in the UK but the Walker Brothers were always much more than a pop group and the reason for that was Scott.
Not only did he have a truly, unique voice, but it soon became clear that our hero was not cut from the same cloth as say Gerry Marsden.
An increasingly free-thinking beatnik, Walker’s eccentricity saw the rumours about his behaviour grow as the group’s fame increased.
Recoiling from the madness of having his hair pulled out by crazed fans, Walker retreated to a monastery where he became increasingly enamoured with the music of Belgian romantic Jacques Brel.
Becoming a one-man tribute to Brel, Walker produced a set of albums full of string-laden arrangements with lyrics about doomed love affairs, dreams dashed and lives left unfulfilled.
It’s these four albums, and most especially Scott 4, that fans hold most dear. I was introduced to Walker’s music after one of my own musical heroes, Julian Cope, wrote about him in the NME and it’s clear that listening to The Last Shadow Puppets album, that the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner is also a big fan.
Walker became something of a recluse during the 1980s and it was not until 1995 that he reemerged with an album called Tilt, which is where things get tricky for us Scott fans
Walker was now producing a type of music which if you were being generous could be called “challenging”. If you were being honest you’d probably use phrases like “unlistenable” or “ow, my ears hurt”.
The trend continued with 2006’s The Drift (Scott doesn’t like to rush things), an album which featured a number of unnerving sound effects such as the distressed braying of a donkey, a demoniac Donald Duck impression and, most famously, an orchestral percussionist punching a dead pig.
This week brought Walker’s latest collection of ‘songs’ and any hope of a return to the days when he actually wrote, recorded and sung proper songs were dashed with a quick look at the tracklisting which included a song called SDSS14+3B (Zircon, A Flagpole Sitter).
Obviously there’s two ways of looking at this sort of artistic behaviour. Part of me is glad someone is out there willing to do this sort of stuff – it’s bonkers, admirable and appeals to my sense of artistic worth.
But come on? Who wouldn’t rather hear Scott come to his senses, hire in an orchestra that hasn’t visited a butcher first and hurry up and make Scott 5.
Sorry, but it’s true.