Scott Walker CD review [4AD]

Music Reviews
Scott Walker CD review [4AD]
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Mar 30, 2007, 08:21

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SCOTT WALKER The Drift CD

Leave it to a reclusive 60-something expatriate who still speaks in his native accent to fire the first real shot in the arm of 21st century music. We are talking about Scott Walker's The Drift here, and The Drift is some very scary shit indeed. Discussions launched as to the meaning and purpose of the album are pointless, as are such things applied to any and all of Scott Walker's output (with the possible exception of his bass playing stint in The Routers on their 1963 instrumental classic "Let's Go!") Walker is totally unique while leaving no trail of crumbs or clues and his back catalogue reflects this.

The Drift moves to the next logical conclusion beyond 1995's industrial downer Tilt while taking a good chunk of the odd formless aura of 1984's Climate of Hunter with it. Describing it, though, is next to impossible: imagine if you will Mario Lanza fronting Oxbow while interpreting Tim Buckley's Starsailor and Lorca as arranged by Gyorgi Lygeti and produced by John Cage and you have something approaching an approximation…of the first piece "Cossacks Are.”

Gone from Walker's voice is the smooth Jack Jones influence, replaced since his Walker Brothers days with a higher register laced in heavy vibrato expounding instability, chaos, and translucence. The music itself combines heavy handed drums and switchblade guitars with layers of dark undercurrent orchestras, pure noise, the punching of sides of unspecified meat, and what sounds like trimmings from the end of the world. This is just for starters.

Walker's topics are as muddled and bizarre as ever. Where else will you find pieces that deal with, among other things:  the last day in the life of Benito Mussolini as seen through the eyes of his mistress Claretta ("Clara"); Elvis Presley's stillborn twin brother Jesse intertwined with heavy drug usage ("Jesse"); a bit of the old soft shoe in Galway battling with drunks, demons, and what sounds like a hard drive crashing as a donkey bays ("Jolson And Jones"); something having to do with an ancient view of the skin disease psoriasis and its relation to the color silver ("Psoriatic"); and a incomprehensible Donald Duck-voiced conclusion to a harrowing and blurred vision of what seems to be extortion and murder ("The Escape")? If nothing else, this is a slice of an average day in the life of the world as we have known it for the last few years now. Need we be reminded of this if we live it every day? The answer must be yes, because this translation and presentation is frightening.

Perhaps a better clue towards understanding The Drift, however, is a credit that appears towards the back of the album's booklet:

All songs written by Scott Walker except "Psoriatic,” in which the words Ja-da ja-da Ja-da ja-da jing jing jing were written by Bob Carleton and published by EMI Feist Catalogue, Inc

The carefully attributed quote is from "Ja-Da,” the American jazz classic covered by numerous folks including Art Tatum, Tommy Dorsey, Stuff Smith, and Louis Prima. Is Walker's proper acknowledgement of his source for what seems to be merely nonsense perhaps a subtle commentary on the current state of music culture and of the business? Or is it maybe nothing more than an attributed nod to a piece of American culture now long gone and mostly forgotten? Perhaps "Ja-Da" is merely a tune that Walker likes…or is this simply a puzzle with no solution? Not for nothing is it worth mentioning that part of the melody of "Ja-Da" was stolen for The Four Season's banal and insipid early 1960's minor hit "Peanuts"…a Collectables re-issue of which, on the B-side, sports their cover of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore,” originally hit for, that's right, The Walker Brothers featuring Scott on lead vocals. Irony and humor in this day and age are certainly not lost on Mr. Walker.

Who really knows for sure? Walker never gives too much away, save for perhaps the one time he did as on the cover photo for Climate of Hunter in which he seemed to be asking the listener "what do YOU make of it?" The photos of Walker included on this album, alas, are all out of focus, so what you make of it all then is clearly up to you. [4AD]

-Nick Blakey

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