This week sees the release of a brand new album from 60s icon Scott Walker. And what a joy it is too with its instantly hummable tunes and striking yet subtle orchestration. It’s a return to his salad days and sure to be adored by anyone who loved his Walker Brother hits.
Well not quite. Bish Bosch is actually the third in Scott’s trilogy of albums which began with Tilt in the mid 90s and continued with The Drift a few years ago. It is unorthodox, unsettling, unpredictable, maybe even chaotic and in many ways stunning. Take the ‘single’ Epizootics which starts off with what sounds like a cow farting over a strange drum pattern in and it’s hook, for want of a better word, is strange fanfare over which Scott sings passionately. And that’s one of the more accessible tracks on it.
Oddly Bish Bosch does include a sleigh-bell infused Christmas track, but it shouldn’t dent Shane McGowan’s New York Christmas royalties cheque too greatly for The Day The Conducator Died (an Xmas Song) is a seven minute drone that focuses on the death of Romanian dictator Nicolau Ceausescu. It is a beautiful piece of music, but I doubt there is much karaoke mileage in it.
Like most other Scott Walker diehards I am utterly bemused by the album. In many ways I love it’s diversity and Scott’s sheer bloody mindedness in creating it, but I can’t help but wish that Scott would make an album a little more akin to the quintet of LPs that bore his name in the late 60s and early 70s. For Scott 1-4 along with the sadly neglected, even by Scott himself, Til The Band Comes In, contain some of the most passionate and majestic pop music ever written.
On those album the deep baritone singer, who could potentially have been the Sinatra of is generation had he stayed in the US, mixed his own stunning originals with covers of then little known continental artists like Jacques Brel and Michel Legrand. Scott’s voice is liquid gold, the orchestration courtesy of Wally Stott, is both dazzlingly inventive and beautifully subtle. And as for the melodies they swoop and soar before wrapping themselves around you,
For me though the main reason why Scott must just be pop’s ultimate thinking persons icon is that he was in many way so out of kilter with the time he lived. Although he was no stranger to the hip 60s clubs and was on good terms with the rest of British pop royalty Scott’s interest, passions and even the way he dressed made him stand out as a maverick, even then.
First up take the lyrics of his mid 60s hits. On thanks like Mrs Murphy and Montague Terrace In Blue Scott peers into the life of ordinary people in way that the recent new wave films – Saturday Night and Sunday Mon ring, Room At The Top, had a few years earlier. Very few others (ok Ray Davies) were writing in this way at the time.
Then when psychedelia hit and the Fabs and the Stones shared their worldwide messages of love, peace and optimism, Scott was singing songs about lonely men, evil dictators and the horrors of war – lyrics that were totally at odd with age.
And while San Francisco bands were pioneering a new kind of hip progressive rock music, Scott was rubbing shoulders with the squares featuring next to crooners like Val Doonican and family entertainers like Lulu on TV shows and singing the songs of MOR session hacks like like Tony Hatch.
He even looked different too. Not for Scott the Paisley and Kaftans that was de rigeur in the late 60s. Look instead at the cover of his Sings Songs From His TV Series album. Rather than hop aboard a fashion bandwagon Scott looked timelessly stylish in classic, shades, corduroy trousers, scarves and black jumpers. In many respects Scott was the James Dean of his era, an existential icon that seemed to be looking at the world in a different way to the rest of us.
Finally there is Scott’s huge influence. Bowie is obviously an enormous fan. And when Walker finally made a live appearance (of sorts) at the Barbican a few years back, British pop royalty, from Damon Albarn to Jarvis Cocker were queuing up to sing his songs.
So, I am voting Scott as pop’s ultimate icon. How about you?