Scott Walker - Starting XI

Scott Walker – Starting XI

On the 19th of August 2016 legendary label 4AD will release the soundtrack of Brady Corbet‘s Childhood Of A Leader, as scored by the equally legendary Scott Walker. It is the latest addition to a repertoire that has blossomed over the course of more than half a century from Walker’s (né Noel Scott Engel) beginnings as a session bassist through to a global pop phenomenon as part of The Walker Brothers and further through to the present day, as one of the most challenging and respected musicians of modern times, give or take a couple hundred left-turns along the way. This Starting XI will attempt to showcase this breadth of his talent, nay genius, even if it doesn’t scratch the surface.

The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) – from the album The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (1966, Smash)

The Walker Brothers‘ take on Bob Crewe‘s classic is the song’s definitive version and an undeniable pop masterpiece. The Phil Spector-esque production coupled with Scott’s longing croon gives it an air of unease, though not quite darkness, that would seep in and out of even his earliest material.

Scott Walker – Mathilde – from the album Scott (1967, Phillips)

The first song from his first solo album, released six months after the collapse of The Walker Brothers mk1, was also the first of Scott’s many translations of the work of Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, who was arguably Scott’s biggest influence in his transformative years. The vocal delivery demonstrates the great confidence Scott had in his own worth even in the immediate aftermath of the demise of The Walker Brothers.

Scott Walker – Jackie – from the album Scott 2 (1968, Phillips)

Another Jacques Brel reinterpretation, ‘Jackie’ is perhaps the most well known of Scott’s solo material. It is equally as triumphant as the aforementioned ‘Mathilde’, riding on upbeat string and brass melodies that contradict the dark, though humorously dark, lyrical subject matter.

Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal – from the album Scott 4 (1969, Phillips)

Confusingly Scott’s fifth solo album, Scott 4 was also his first commercial failure. Scott’s own opinions for the reasons of its failure, that the original release of it carried only his birth name and that the entirety of the album was written in 3/4, don’t necessarily hold water but whatever the reason it was more of a creative success than anything that preceded it. Nowhere is this summed up better than opener ‘The Seventh Seal’, an ode to the film of the same name that adds a Latin flair to the widescreen chamber-pop that Scott was at the time both dipping his toes into and out of.

Scott Walker – Boy Child – from the album Scott 4 (1969, Phillips)

From the same album, ‘Boy Child’ is the full realisation of the promise that Scott had shown from the birth of his solo career as both a lyricist and a composer. A haunting ballad born of little more than voice and piano, its mastery of space and silence gives it more weight than any orchestra ever could.

The Walker Brothers – Lines – from the album Lines (1976, GTO)

After the commercial failure of Scott 4 and a string of equally unsuccessful albums composed mainly of covers (summarised perfectly by Scott himself as his “lost years”) the reformation of The Walker Brothers was a financial necessity more than anything else. Still, the title track of their second post-reformation album stands up to anything they (or indeed he) recorded. Scott is noted as stating this widescreen country epic to be his favourite Walker Brothers track, though he would never pick a number one.

The Walker Brothers – The Electrician – from the album Nite Flights (1978, GTO)

The last hurrah of their second and final spell, Nite Flights is also the only Walker Brothers album that comes to the creative scope of Scott’s solo material. Democratically structured with all three members contributing a roughly equal number of songs, it is Scott’s that is by far the most worthwhile. ‘The Electrician’ begins with a slow, atonal build-up that foreshadows his work on later albums before blossoming into the kind of beautiful string-driven chorus that made him (and them) globally adored.

Scott Walker – Rawhide – from the album Climate Of Hunter (1984, Virgin)

As autobiographical lyrics go, there are very few that cut to the point more than the first line from ‘Rawhide’; “This is how you disappear.” Released six years after the second death of The Walker Brothers, Climate Of Hunter is both of its time and utterly timeless, with a tone foreshadowing the work of latter-period Talk Talk and many British ‘art-rock’ acts of the early 90s whilst being a product entirely of its era instrumentally.

Scott Walker – Farmer In The City – from the album Tilt (1995, Fontana)

After another retreat, this time for over a decade, Scott released Tilt in 1995. It is a more expansive in terms of arrangement than its predecessor, though by now means any more accessible. Nowhere is this more true than the staggering ‘Farmer In The City’, a near-seven minute epic of musical high theatre centred somewhat abstractly on the poem Uno dei Tanti Epiloghi’ by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It marks somewhat of a change in Scott’s songwriting process; here and from hereon in it is the lyrics that set the tone and guide a piece along, though that isn’t to say there is any less focus placed on the painstakingly constructed soundscapes behind them.

Scott Walker – Hand Me Ups – from the album The Drift (2006, 4AD)

‘Hand Me Ups’ finds Scott Walker knee deep in unfamiliar territory. It is an intimidating psych-rock wall of noise, all crashing cymbals and shrieking horns that barely relent, that is as expert a mastering of maximalism as ‘Boy Child’ is of minimalism. Yet here again it is Walker’s lyrics, nay storytelling, that take pride of place.

Scott Walker – sdss1416+13b (zercon a flagpole sitter) – from the album Bish Bosch (2012, 4AD)

As difficult as Scott’s fifty year plus career is to summarise, perhaps ‘Zercon…’ is just as difficult. It is built on a latter-day Scott Walker trope; the tying together of two seemingly alien narratives (see also ‘Jesse’, which bridges together 9/11 and Elvis Presley‘s stillborn twin brother), and over twenty minutes muses on the tales of two brown dwarves, one human and one stellar, using everything from absolute silence to distorted guitars to petty insults to do so. It is utterly bewildering, and it is utterly Scott Walker.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.