52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, May 15, 2006

has absence ever sounded so eloquent? so sad?

Scott Walker is a real hero of mine.

I don't say that lightly and I don't say it about very many people. Ever since I was first introduced to his music by my friend Mark at university, I have been absolutely captivated by the sound of this beautiful, easy-listening voice singing these incredibly bleak songs of death and misery. Astounding stuff. As far as I'm concerned, there is no vocalist that can touch him, and only one other musician has affected me in anything like the same way.

With that in mind, it is with heavy heart that I have to say this.

I've been listening to "The Drift".

This is Scott Walker's first album in 11 years, and I knew that if it was anything like his last two albums (1984s "Climate of the Hunter" and 1995s "Tilt") then it was going to be challenging. Conventional song structure and such trivial things as melody, choruses and the like are apparently impediments to Scott's muse. This tends to make things hard (but not impossible) for the listener. Even Walker's voice has changed: the rich baritone of the 1960s has been replaced by something a lot scratchier and taut; almost operatic. It's a change that probably has something to do with age, but I think is partly deliberate too.

They are difficult albums, but they do reward persistence - even if they will never be albums that I will have on a regular rotation. On first listen, "The Drift" seems to be similar.

But here's the thing.....

I was listening to "The Drift" through my headphones at work. Not ideal listening conditions, but not terrible, and I listen to lots of albums for the first time in this way. Only, by the time I got to track 6 (of 10 on the album), an inescapable image had formed in my head as I listened to the music....

You remember The Fast Show? Do you remember those two characters with the tight polo-necks, pulled up trousers and bowl cuts? Those guys with the funny dance from the Isle of Man? Do you remember the music that played as they shuffled across the screen? (click here to see them in action)


That's what this album sounds like.

I'm sorry Scott. I really am, but that's the way it is. I can assure you that no one is more upset about this than me.

(They're from the Isle of Man....)


  • At 10:15 pm, Blogger Pynchon said…

    I'm not familiar with "The Fast Show". Never watched it, but maybe you are right? Maybe there is a hint of the Emperors New Clothes about the latest Scott Walker album? I've not heard it, but all of the reviews are treating it with great reverence and respect. Perhaps somebody should turn around and say that it is shit, if that's what it is?

  • At 10:15 pm, Blogger Ali said…

    You must be gutted.

  • At 10:20 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    I'm not sure I think it's shit... that would be very harsh on a partial first listen.... I'm just finding it impossible to escape from the image of those guys shuffling across my mind when I listen to it. As you might imagine, it does tend to undermine any gravitas Scott Walker might have.

    There is a lot of reverence for walker in those reviews - you're right - but is it right to mark an album highly because you ADMIRE it, but don't want to actually LISTEN to it? Or is that fundamentally missing the point about music?

    I will perservere with this though. His recent stuff has sometimes been hard, but some of it is genuinely remarkable. "Farmer In The City" from "Tilt" is an extraordinary song.


  • At 10:26 pm, Blogger Flash said…

    I actually thought of you only half an hour ago while lounging in the bath.
    I was reading Q & their review pretty much echoed your own feelings.
    I though then, I wonder what Swiss makes of it & voila!
    There I have it.
    Fancy that.

  • At 11:05 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    I found a review I like. Paul Du Noyer in "The Word":

    "It's more than 40 years since Scott Walker forsook America for the Europe of frowning arthouse movies and windy French philosophers. Since then he's evolved from moody pop heartthrob to low-profile sonic sculptor, releasing his notoriously "difficult" albums at 11 year intervals. The last one, "Tilt", has at least the sombre beauty of opening track 'Farmer in the City', but his latest makes no concessions for anything. He isn't really the loony recluse of legend: just a man who's made the sane decision to take life at his own pace. But his legend grows like a beatnik Che Guevara: handsome, charismatic and happier with struggle than with success.

    "The Drift" is very challenging. Walker's superbly rich voice still swoops from high yearnings to sorrowful depths, but the tunes are no more than single note incantations. The arrangements are complex, whether orchestral or industrial, but assembled in abstract blocks. Pointless to interpret his lyrics, which he recites like cyrptic crossword clues, save to say that images of torute and darkness recur. Scott's stylistic reference points, indeed, are not rock at all now. You might file him, instead, near some 20-th century classical composers: the bristling discords of Messiaen, the mournful Goerecki or the brooding tundras of Arvo Part.

    If you ever loved the symphonic melodramas of his pop years, or the anxious cabaret style of those early solo albums, it's possible to mourn Walker's chosen path. It's not that he's wilful or random: everything on "the Drift" seems immensely considered. But I wish this wondrous voice and studio craft were at the something of something more accessible. Tunes and lyrics are like the flowers that draw the bees to the pollen. Without them, Walker's later years are looking slightly sterile."


    "symphonic melodramas.." I like that.


  • At 11:06 pm, Blogger Monsieur Hannard said…

    Have you heard Tom Waits' 'Asylum Years' album? Or Tindersticks 'Simple Pleasures'? I recommend them. Do let me know if you give them a spin.

  • At 9:31 am, Blogger LB said…

    I am firmly on the side of "it is a great record if you want to listen to it. Lots".

    I don't see the point of making a great record if it is impossible to listen to.

    I think that means I sorta agree with you...

    (i like Scott Walker as well, btw)

  • At 9:35 am, Blogger Ben said…

    Ah. Well, I hope that's just first impressions and it improves with recurrent listening.

  • At 1:33 pm, Blogger John McClure said…

    I think I'll stick to the the "brooding tundras of Arvo Part".

  • At 7:00 am, Blogger Stef said…

    So, what these reviews seem to be say is "Scott is talented but completely off his tits"?

    Bummer about the Fast Show image. Don't worry, there'll be another album to listen to just before you get 45.

  • At 9:50 am, Blogger Gazemous said…

    The album is fantastic. It may be impossible to listen to it but I find there to be a magnetic charm associated with it which just drags me to listening on. I don't really know what is going on for most of the record and it just seems to go on and on but it is simply brilliant in my eyes.

    I'm out of breath when I've finished listening to it, then I put it on again.

    Bummer about the Fast Show image though.


Post a Comment

<< Home