… pop idol turned crooner turned, well, kinda weirdo, Scott Walker. Over a nearly 50-year career, the former Noel Scott Engel has explored everything from the Brill Building to Brel and some seriously challenging post-rock. As Wikipedia notes:
Originally coming to fame in the mid-1960s singing orchestral pop ballads as the frontman of The Walker Brothers, Walker went on to a solo career balancing a light entertainment/MOR ballad approach with increasing artistic innovations in arrangement and writing perspective. Despite a series of acclaimed albums, a disastrous drop in sales forced him back into straight MOR recordings with little of his own artistic input. This in turn eventually led to a Walker Brothers reunion in the mid-1970s (although the latter eventually moved, by mutual consent, into more experimental areas).
Since the mid-1980s Walker has revived his solo career while drastically reinventing his artistic and compositional methods, via a series of acclaimed and vividly experimental albums. These combine his iconic singing voice with an unsettling avant-garde approach owing more to modernist and post-modernist classical composition than it does to his pop singer past. The change in approach has been compared to “Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen”.
Idolized in Britain, he’s less remembered here in his native land. Still, let’s have a look at a few representative pieces from his career.
First, we have The Walker Brothers, who were as closely related as les freres Doobie or los Hermanos Righteous. They’re best remembered here for this nifty slice of mid-60s orchestral pop.
By 1967, however, Scott Walker had developed a significant solo career. He moved into MOR music, but the lyrics were… well, not exactly the stuff of elevator music. Instead, he would translate Jacques Brel and bring in his own occasionally seamy words.
Here’s a Brel tune:
and one of his own, “Big Louise”:
A slightly successful Walker Brothers reunion occupied some of the 70s, and his solo work appeared only sporadically — he released only three full albums in a 22-year span. These works turned increasingly avant-garde, culminating (to me, anyway) in his 2006 album The Drift. This album is not for the fainthearted, containing tracks like this one, in which Elvis Presley ruminates on 9/11 to his stillborn twin brother. (Yeah, I know.) The first time I heard it, I was utterly appalled. Later, I found it intriguing. Now, I find it compelling, but only in rare doses.
During this most recent period, Walker was the subject of the documentary film 30 Century Man, some of which explores his rather unusual sound sculpting techniques. Even if you aren’t a fan, it’s a remarkable look at an artist. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the level of fanaticism that we see in his kill-for-Kali-level devotees, and I haven’t heard anything from his 2012 album Bish Bosch, but I’m glad the guy’s around. Happy birthday, sir.