Monday, 8 February 2021

Scott Walker ‎– Scott (The Collection 1967-1970) (2013)

Style: Chanson, Ballad, Vocal
Format: Box Set, 5xCD, Vinyl
Label: Universal UMC, Spectrum Music 

1-01.   Mathilde
1-02.   Montague Terrace (In Blue)
1-03.   Angelica
1-04.   The Lady Came From Baltimore
1-05.   When Joanna Loved Me
1-06.   My Death
1-07.   The Big Hurt
1-08.   Such A Small Love
1-09.   You're Gonna Hear From Me
1-10.   Through A Long And Sleepless Night
1-11.   Always Coming Back To You
1-12.   Amsterdam

Scott 2
2-01.   Jackie
2-02.   Best Of Both Worlds
2-03.   Black Sheep Boy
2-04.   The Amorous Humphrey Plugg
2-05.   Next
2-06.   The Girls From The Streets
2-07.   Plastic Palace People
2-08.   Wait Until Dark
2-09.   The Girls And The Dogs
2-10.   Windows Of The World
2-11.   The Bridge
2-12.   Come Next Spring

Scott 3

3-01.   It's Raining Today
3-02.   Copenhagen
3-03.   Rosemary
3-04.   Big Louise
3-05.   We Came Through
3-06.   Butterfly
3-07.   Two Ragged Soldiers
3-08.   30 Century Man
3-09.   Winter Night
3-10.   Two Weeks Since You've Gone
3-11.   Sons Of
3-12.   Funeral Tango
3-13.   If You Go Away

Scott 4

4-01.   The Seventh Seal
4-02.   On Your Own Again
4-03.   The World's Strongest Man
4-04.   Angels Of Ashes
4-05.   Boy Child
4-06.   Hero Of The War
4-07.   The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated To The Neo-Stalinist Regime)
4-08.   Duchess
4-09.   Get Behind Me
4-10.   Rhymes Of Goodbye

'Til The Band Comes In

5-01.   Prologue
5-02.   Little Things (That Keep Us Together)
5-03.   Joe
5-04.   Thanks For Chicago Mr. James
5-05.   Long About Now
5-06.   Time Operator
5-07.   Jean The Machine
5-08.   Cowbells Shakin'
5-09.   'Til The Band Comes In
5-10.   The War Is Over (Sleepers - Epilogue)
5-11.   Stormy
5-12.   The Hills Of Yesterday
5-13.   Reuben James
5-14.   What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life
5-15.   It's Over

Arranged By, Conductor – Peter Knight), Reg Guest, Wally Stott
Composed By – Ady Semel, Noel Scott Engel, Scott Walker
Product Manager – Kelly Gateson
Producer – John Franz 

The story of the singer Scott Walker is typically split into three parts. The first is of his brief career with the melancholy orchestral-pop group the Walker Brothers, who for a couple of years in the mid-1960s were famous enough to be a front-cover concern on Tiger Beat magazine and have their car overturned by fans while they were still sitting in it. Walker quickly became uncomfortable with this, and in 1967 went solo with four theatrical and increasingly dark albums, all called Scott. "GOING SOLO IN A MONASTERY!" a headline in Melody Maker read-- a monastery Walker had to leave because fans started banging on the door looking for him.

The Scott albums-- now remastered and collected into a box set with 1970's 'Til The Band Comes In-- are the fulcrum of Walker's career: You can hear where he'd been, and in retrospect, where he was going; his third act was emerging after 20 years of almost total silence with Tilt, The Drift, and Bish Bosch, released between 1997 and 2012. Walker's latter-day albums are fearless and violent, featuring wailing donkeys, moans, scrapes, and famously, the sound of someone punching meat. They seem to have been written in another language entirely.

The Scott albums, however, remain part of a tradition of highly arranged, rock-free music that valued old songs over new sounds and professionalism over innovation. "I don't wanna see my fans walking around like drugged zombies," Walker told a journalist around the time Scott came out in 1967, a rejection of the psychedelic culture prevalent at the time. Instead, he embraced conventionally gorgeous, string-heavy music targeted at housewives and elderly people. At the same time, he fell headlong into existentialist literature and European art-house cinema. He appeared on variety shows, and remained either at or near the top of the charts. He also developed a pitch-black sense of humor, and in his rich, mocking baritone explored songs about Soviet dictators and the spiritual poverty of men who only feel human in the company of whores.

"Jackie", the single released in advance of Scott 2, was banned by the BBC. When the album came out, it went to Number 1. It remains the first recorded instance of the hyphenated adjective "stupid-ass" that I can think of. By 1969 Walker was writing epics about Ingmar Bergman movies featuring dissonant choir arrangements and trumpets blowing through canyons of reverb. Around this time he was also given his own television show, where he performed all your toe-tapping and heart-rending favorites in black sunglasses, without smiling.

This is the Scott Walker of the late 1960s: As passionately invested in covers of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra hits as in singing the word "gonorrhea"; voted "Mr. Valentine" by Disc & Music Echo the same year he released a song about a young man routinely raped by military officers. His best performances convey the deep tragedy of their subjects while managing to laugh at them with a cruelty and indifference available to only the most total of douchebags.

The essential contrast in his late-60s albums is between easy-listening music and forbiddingly difficult subject matter. It's a dichotomy that has always made Walker seem more like an outsider artist than a mainstream one. It's also fodder for a case that Walker was "subversive," an accolade for alternative-music fans who, especially now, can recast him as some kind of mole inside the machine, exposing the innocent people of Britain to material that would make their middle-class spines shiver. This isn't untrue. But it also smoothes over the fact that the Scott albums are different pieces of music that leave different impressions. Any attempt to lump them together is more a matter of laziness or historical convenience than anything else. If you look at the credits from Scott onward, what you see, essentially, is Walker taking over the show: on Scott, he wrote three songs among its 12, the rest covers; by Scott 4, he wrote them all.

Walker's choice of covers essentially falls into two camps: Easygoing heartbreak music and songs by the Belgian writer Jacques Brel. The latter's impact on Walker can't be understated: Walker covered him nine times on his first three albums, and some of the most elegant expressions of Walker's romantic but poisoned worldview are his. Take "The Girls and the Dogs", from Scott 2, a psychopathically chipper song about how men are longing, women are fickle, and dogs are lucky to not care either way. "The dogs, well you know the dogs, they lift up a leg as they see it end/ The dogs, well you know the dogs, and maybe that's why they're man's best friend," goes the refrain. "And yet," Walker sings toward the end, "it's because of the girls, when they've knocked us about and our tears want to shout/ That we kick the dogs out." Over the course of about 10 seconds, his voice hardens from drippy sympathy to resolute meanness, and as the song fades out, he defers to a choir of trombones that sound like they wandered out of a burlesque show. In essence: The world is a monochromatically cruel place, so ha ha ha, fuck it.

Walker's own songs are more ambiguous. From Scott 2, "The Amorous Humphrey Plugg" tells the story of a deflated husband who finds his peace of mind wandering thorugh the red-light district at night. "Leave it all behind me," he sings, sailing away on a tide of violins. "Screaming kids on my knee and the telly swallowing me/ And the neighbors shouting next door/ And the subway trembling the rollerskate floor." Like good satire, Jacques Brel's songs cue you to laugh then startle you with reality. Walker puts you in the uncomfortable position of wondering whether to laugh in the first place, or to just lean back and allow these characters a glory that eludes them in their own lives.

Then there are songs like the simple, country-influenced "Duchess", from Scott 4. The same singer who rejected psychedelia started writing the kind of impressionistic lyrics whose nonsense is more penetrating than anything more literal could be. "It's your shiftless flesh and your old-girl's grace," he sighs. "It's your young girl's face that I'm breathing." In both sound and lyric, Walker's music became more and more evocative, leaving behind the easy gratification of his earlier albums for broad, cinematic arrangements and stories that end not on punch lines, but question marks.

There are defenders of 1970's 'Til The Band Comes In. I am not one of them, and for what it's worth, neither was Walker. Reportedly puzzled by the fact that his audience wasn't interested in dense songs about hookers and child abuse, he made the humble mistake of trying to will himself back to popularity. It has redeeming moments-- like the eulogistic "Joe"-- but not many. Its worst songs are embarrassing: In an irony Walker could probably appreciate in time, he'd become one of the gloriously desperate people he'd sung about only a year or two earlier.

For anyone who hasn't heard Scott Walker before, the prospect of buying a five-album box set like The Collection is ridiculous. For fans that already own these albums, it's absurd. The recordings are, of course, "remastered," which I can discern only in fleeting moments. And unlike the now out-of-print In Five Easy Pieces, whose discs were organized by theme, The Collection goes for a straightforward archival treatment, with a nice selection of period interviews and a beautifully synthesized essay by Rob Young, an editor at British experimental-music magazine The Wire.

It is ultimately yet another example of a record company attempting to re-brand material still available to consumers. Walker is a cult artist, more obscure than he ever was in the late 1960s but also more intensely beloved. You can almost hear the saliva of marketing teams hitting conference-room desks at the prospect of issuing 180-gram gatefold vinyl. Still, there are worse artists to focus the effort on. In a 2008 interview with the Guardian, Walker blamed some of his ugly output in the 1970s on label pressures to "stay in the game"-- a convenient story coming from an artist, but if there's any truth to it, The Collection is a simple but elegant way of repaying some of the debt.
Mike Powel / Pitchfork

Scott Walker ‎– Any Day Now (1973)

Genre: Pop
Fomat: CD, Vinyl
Label: Fontana, Philips

A1.   Any Day Now
A2.   All My Love's Laughter
A3.   Do I Love You
A4.   Maria Bethania
A5.   Cowboy
A6.   When You Get Right Down To It
B1.   If
B2.   Ain't No Sunshines
B3.   The Me I Never Knew
B4.   If Ships Were Made To Sail
B5.   We Could Be Flying

Producer – John Franz
Arranged By, Conductor – Peter Knight, Robert Cornford

On Any Day Now, Scott Walker tackles some real garbage material and spins what little gold he can from overwrought arrangements of sub-standard cover material. Really, what possessed the man who wrote "Plastic Palace People" to cover Bread's saccharine "If"? Or how about how the orchestration almost completely overpowers him at the end of Paul Anka's "Do I Love You?" Or his affecting a Caribbean patois to match with the tepid pseudo-reggae rhythms of "Maria Bethania"? There is not one original composition on display on Any Day Now, and for an artist who is responsible for absolute masterpieces like Scott 2 and Scott 4 to turn in an album of material this lackluster shows both the cruel machinations of the record industry and true contempt for one's fans. For when you come down to it, this album practically screams "contractual obligation." This is lazy music that aims to satisfy only the lowest common denominator. At the same time though, Walker possesses one of the few truly great voices, and there are flashes of genius in his singing here. "When You Get Right Down to It" showcases his voice especially well, his soaring tenor transcending the banality of the lyrics and creating a performance to rival any of his '60s material. His tough-guy affectations on "Ain't No Sunshine" sound like an influence on Johnny Mathis' lunatic-disco cover of "Night and Day." This album remains, however, best suited to the hardcore fan, and can be safely passed by for everyone else.
James Mason / AllMusic