Like many others, I’m sure, I was taken aback at the news of Scott Walker’s death this morning. That makes two great ex-pop stars turned avantists that have passed in the past few weeks, the other being the somewhat less exalted Mark Hollis, formerly of Talk Talk.
Richard Williams, as per usual, has beaten me to it, with a lovely blog (or re-blog) about first seeing the young Scott Engels in 1965 on Ready Steady Go. Being slightly younger than Richard (just), I can still remember just how much of an impact the Walker Brothers made in the Beatles-obsessed mid-60s pop scene, all Brian Jones-haircuts and Righteous Brothers harmonies. A fantastic run of singles that remain truly timeless, from probably pop music’s greatest period. Period.
I won’t tell the story of Scott’s journey - the rock press will already be onto that. But what strikes me most immediately, in terms of narrative, is the sheer contrasts involved here. Engel’s renowned solo albums, four of ‘em from 1967-69, which is a tremendously concentrated feat in anyone’s terms, are counterbalanced by the four from 1984-2012 (Climate of Hunter, Tilt, The Drift and Bish Bosch), a nearly-thirty year paint-drying exercise in alienating his previous audience (apart from a few masochists like myself). Glorious excursions such as’ My Ship Is Coming In’, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Big Louise’ were eventually followed by horror-shows such as ‘The Cockfighter’ and ‘Zercon, A Flag Sitter’, surely one of the most pretentiously irritating tracks ever envisioned? I’m a big fan of Tilt, but the latter two albums remain rather indigestible delicacies only to be visited when I feel especially ‘unusual’, a mood that Withnail-ed. Two more monstrous propositions are hard to locate, but there they are, like particularly irritating gargoyles in your record collection, that won’t be forgotten and continually demand re-examination. And I thank Scott Walker for them, because they totally discombobulate (is that the word?) me.
It would be easy, at this point, to just luxuriate in Scott 4 (about which Thom Yorke has held forth, as a big influence on the oiky fifth formers Radiohead), so I’ve just played it - the wife says that ‘’he has a totally distinctive voice’’, but isn’t a huge fan. And now I’ve put on Bish Bosch ‘’, just to punish my earlier easy option: ‘’ Whilst plucking feathers from a swan song’’ is about as understandable as it gets. I still can’t decide whether I love or hate this record, and I’ve had it for seven years. I’m actually tempted to say that it’s a more difficult proposition than Trout Mask Replica, to be honest. Ultimately, it’s a colder and less humorous (although it tries, farts and all) album than TMR, I think, but, goodness what a piece of work!!
I hate to say it, but what equivalent artists are there today? Scott leaves eight totemic solo albums, his Walker Bros legacy, and a few very interesting side projects such as the Pola X,soundtrack and the Sunn O collaboration, Soused, which will stand as his final work, until the undoubted posthumous wave of ‘unreleased material’ emerges over the next few months ‘’….on their hands - at last- a dead star’’, as Morrissey said, but i prefer the ‘Zircon’ summary, ‘’It’s so cold…infrared…what if I freeze…and drop..into the darkness?’’ Good old Scott, never one to follow the pack.