Monday, April 2, 2012

The Grand Talent of Scott Walker

I think I might be getting obsessed about Scott Walker. I listen to his first four solo albums from the 60s (Scott 1-4) every day, and if I don't.. Well, then I won't be too happy..

Originally, I had heard one song from Scott Walker's band, the Walker Brothers (The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore). Apart from that, I hadn't spent much time thinking about Scott Walker, or the Walker Brothers... This more recent development began when I saw the documentary film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. The (almost) whole story was there: at first Scott Walker was in the Walker Brothers, a band that was much more popular in the UK than its homeland, the United States. Scott wrote songs for the band and soon went on to record solo albums. After that, his musical ambitions only kept growing. He is still writing new music – and he is definitely not trying to please the big buying audience anymore!

Funnily, the documentary film didn't say much about the first phase of Noel Scott Engel's musical career. Engel, as his real name is, was a teen idol way before his enormous success with the Walker Brothers. To me this is really interesting, as I might consider myself a sucker for teen idols... Scott before his grown-up career sounds quite a bit like himself, only his voice is higher. And, yeah, the music is a bit different, too...

In the mid-60s Scott joined the Walker Brothers, a band in which the members were not really brothers or called Walker. The Walker Brothers were considered to be a boy band, and its popularity was often even compared to the Beatles. The band was a popular subject of gossip and hype. It didn't take long until Scott began to feel anxious being in the band. He wore sunglasses to express the alienation he was feeling at the time.

It seems to me that it wasn't until the solo career when Scott really began to shine. The Walker Brothers performed music that had certain similar aspects to Scott's solo work but as a solo artist there was no need to adjust to the group dynamics. When Scott went solo he began a journey towards his later ambitions. At first he recorded many cover versions, including several Jacques Brel's songs. There were also original compositions right on the first album – with some extremely well-written lyrics. Scott 3 (1969) contained touches of dissonance, indicating the more experimental style that Scott was already interested in at that point. Scott 4 (1969) wasn't as big a commercial success as the first three albums but it was the first to feature only Scott Walker compositions.

Albums Scott 1-4 are in any case must-hear material. There are spectacular orchestral arrangements as well as awesome songs. Then there is Scott's personal instrument... His deep baritone voice. Scott's voice can be characterized by magnificent integrity and expressiveness. He makes singing sound so very easy with his relaxed style and natural vibrato. There is also a lot of emotion. In fact, his style is sometimes quite theatrical.

According to Scott himself, he probably would have started making experimental music earlier if Scott 4 had been more succesfull. After Scott 4 there was little progress for many, many years. Finally, in 1995 came Tilt, the first of Scott's avant garde/experimental albums. The following album, The Drift was released in 2006. These albums are surely interesting as they reveal the more adventurous, ambitious, as well as darker sides of Scott Walker. Nowadays Scott does exactly what he wants, and that is probably the ideal state of mind for a talented artist to be in.

Here is Jackie, a Jacques Brel song from Scott 2 (1968).

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