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Monday, November 06, 2006

Boy Child

The music of Scott Walker has finally hit me like a pile of bricks. I've had samplings of his solo stuff and his material with the Walker Brothers over the years, but I'm now fully-engaged. This has been five years in the making.

Back when Ash's Free All Angels came out in 2001, I was struck by the orchestral sample used in "Candy." It was from the Walker Brothers' rendition of "Make It Easy on Yourself," a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune. I had never heard of the Walker Brothers, so I thought this was some obscure sample they dug up.

When I read the news release that Scott Walker was producing Pulp's We Love Life, I wondered what the big deal was. Who was this guy and what was so great about him? I got around to hearing some Walker Brothers while I worked at an oldies station and I liked what I heard. However, the word about Scott Walker's solo material was that it was even better. My interest was considerably raised upon reading Scott Plagenhoef's 9.3 Pitchfork review of Walker's 5 Easy Pieces box set. Still, I was too wrapped up in other stuff to check his stuff.

Fast forward to a few months ago, fellow Punk Planet reviewer Justin Marciniak talked up Walker's Boy Child compilation in his reviewer spotlight. Featuring cuts from his classic period between 1967 and 1970, Boy Child is a prime introduction to Walker's material. But it was not Boy Child that fully-introduced me. It was the It's Raining Today compilation, which also covers the '67-'70 era. Playing on the PA one night when I was at the Cavern, I realized that I had to pick up something from Walker, be it Boy Child or the five-disc 5 Easy Pieces set. 5 Easy Pieces won out because I found a copy drastically reduced at the nearby, going-out-of-business Tower Records last week.

So how do I go about describing this material? Well, let me get this out of the way first: the voice. Yes, Walker has a crooner-like approach. Yes, it's deep and a tad dramatic at times, but I don't find this annoying. Walker has a deep range that neither stays in an ultra-low or ultra-high register. Walker has some great stories to tell in his lyrics and they are full of colors. Singing about rumored affairs, lost loves and pretty places with a sense of cynicism, the material doesn't come across as ironic or tasteless.

The shining quality of Walker's material is with the use of an orchestra. I love the sound of a large string section creating a feeling like you're walking in an English countryside in the fall. The result is neither sad nor happy -- it's really peaceful. I've heard this vibe in songs by Nick Drake, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot, but nothing so fleshed out as what Walker has done. Songs like "The Bridge," "Montague Terrace," "It's Raining Today" and "Copenhagen" beautifully illustrate this.

Walker was incredibly prolific in the Sixties and Seventies, but he has only released three albums since 1984. His latest, The Drift, was released earlier this year on 4AD. Though his material has morphed into free-form sonic soundscapes, Walker still has the proverbial "it". A documentary entitled 30 Century Man recently premiered and shall get a theatrical release in the UK early next year.

All this said, this is some of the greatest orchestral-tinged pop music I've ever heard. I'm a sucker for this stuff, so I'm biased. I've heard plenty of crooners that just croon and bore me. This is not the case here.

5 comments:

Treblephone said...

His four 60s solo albums, simply titled Scott Walker 1, 2, etc. are all WELL worth picking up [not sure just how much the box has of them].

As you've no doubt found, the 80s/90s stuff is a bit [!] more esoteric.

captain groovy said...

in the early 80's Julian Cope put together a comp called The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker.That was my introduction to his music.Over the years i have managed to but almost everything by him.He had a big thing for Jacque Brel & did alot of his songs most noticeably Amsterdam & If You Go Away.Later in the 80's cuts like The Electrician anticipated Bowies Berlin period & Joy Division.Obviously his newest music is pretty out there but his best stuff has always had an air of strangeness about it.Nick Cave,Tindersticks,they all owe a debt to this guy.And how cool is it he keeps making way out music?
I've got a pal keeps begging me to put a best of early Scott on my blog.now might be the time.

captain groovy said...

Actually after reading my own post i meant to say i have bought most everything by him.The Electrician actually came out in 1976.Bowie has covered NightFlight,If You Go Away & Amsterdam.

PlasticPalaceAlice said...

such a deep and delerious well to fall down! I will say this though, to correct your claim that his current music is "free form" - there is nothing "free" or even "experimental" about his music now, it is some of the most tighly constructed, deliberate and artistic music being made today - difficult, dark, disturbing, yes - but with a singularity and clarity of purpose and vision that is minboggling. And well worth spending time with, especially if you have absorbed the early output (which could take several years) and are ready to step out on the limb with him...
thanks for helping to spread the word about this amazing artist! PPA

babsie said...

Til the band comes in is great too!
I am an 'old' fan of over 40 years and for all you 'new'fans you will enjoy this journey like no other.
Happy listening.