14 September 2014

Scott Walker - Scott 2

Sometimes music from previous eras does not translate too well to the modern era; this can be due to different values, different styles or the record itself were shit.  Even his lord and saviour Frank Zappa has released a few songs which have lyrics that are not just questionable, they are damn right offensive.  You might be wondering why I am putting this at the beginning of a review of the classic release from Scott Walker.  Well, I want to put something in context before I review this album; there is some of the lyrics will sound very offensive to the modern era, some of them were offensive at the time.  But it come from a totally different time, this is not an excuse just the way that it was.  Ok, with that out of the way a little bit of a history lesson.  At the time of this release, the 26 year old was a big deal.  Just a year after his first solo release and his leaving of The Walker Brothers, Scott Walker was very much in favour with the world.  When this album came out in the UK in 1969, it was number 1 in the UK charts; this was long before Scott Walker the avant-garde artist came to the forefront of his music adventure.  At this point, the songs are very contemporary for the time and there is nothing as strange as the music from 'Bish Bosch' (which is a strange and wondrous record).  With this in mind, how does this record fair at the age of 45.

Starting the album is the classic "Jackie", a cover song original done by Jacques Brel and further versions have been done by such artist as Mike Patton and Marc Almond.  When the song was first released, the BBC would not play it due to the drug references and some questionable lyrics.  For me, if people like Frankie Howard (who had Scott Walker on a chat show he ran at the time and was dancing to the song) and Marc Almond are good with the song; then who am I to judge a song which was written in a different era.  It is a classic in every sense of the word and deserves to be heard.  Also, it is the one song which I want the Divine Comedy to cover as it sounds like the template for his entire career.  "Best Of Both Worlds" is a contemporary cover for the time, it sounds like something that could have been used on any movie from the late sixties/early seventies; it has that melodrama feeling will be familiar to anyone stuck in the house with only one TV channel which worked during their youth.  It is a forlorn and bitter number of regret and goodbye to a two timing bastard/bitch (delete as applicable), a well performed number of its era.  "Black Sheep Boy" is another cover of a popular song of the time, so it is again very much of that time.  It is about as offensive as a digestive biscuit, but there is a charm to it as well.  It will either have you clicking your fingers or heading for the stereo to turn it off.  For me, I like it a lot; but it is no "Jackie"

"The Amorous Humphrey Plugg" is the first of a few original compositions on this album.  Musically it is akin to "Best Of Both Worlds".  As a fan of his later, more avant-garde numbers, it is sometimes a little strange hearing him doing this type of number.  But this was the style of the time and he was not the artist he is now, that said I have to say that the performance on this number is full of passion, regret and sorrow that are his trademark; it is a brilliant number with a fantastic performance from his backing band.  "Next" is the next cover of Jacques Brel, another set of questionable set of lyrics that will have the PC crowd reaching for their pitchforks and denouncing it as the work of an evil demon.  To be honest, it is a self deprecating number that has some lyrics which are misguided compared to today's standards (and if I am honest, should have been altered back then), a strange and confusing performance that does not really work for me; first number on the album to feel dispensable.  Next is another original song called "The Girls From The Streets" which sounds so slow compared to most of this album, it just more with the speed of a funeral march.  It is also a much better number than "Next", as it has that strange leanings that would become his signature in years to come.  There is a dark and dangerous underbelly that is glimpsed here in this interesting little piece.

Starting the second half of the album is "Plastic Palace People" which is the third original number, a number written (just like the previous two) under his true name Noel Scott Engel.  It starts like a strange and haunting dream, with the piano and strings going up and down in an unsettling way.  It is a classic pop song, but it is still an aggressive and off putting number in places.  Even when it reverts to the more calm waters of the chorus sections, it is still an uneasy experience that hints towards the future.  "Wait Until Dark" is a song taken from the film of the same name.  I cannot find if this version was actually used on the film or if it is a cover of the original.  Anyway, what we have here is a song like "Best Of Both Worlds"; it has a fine performance from Mr Engel, but the over-heaving strings are detrimental to the number as they suffocate everything that could have been good about the number.  "The Girls & The Dogs" is the final of the Jacques Brel covers, this time comparing girls to dogs in terms of loyalty to boys.  Something tells me Mr Brel was a little bitter in places, or incredibly sarcastic.  Either way, it is a funny number in places that is better than "Next", but nowhere near the dizzying heights of "Jackie".

"Windows Of The World" starts the last section of the album, a cover of the number written by the writing team of Hal David & Burt Bacharach.  There is a stripped back feeling, as the strings are almost kept in the background for the most part of the song and when they finally appear, it is with a subtle tone and not all enclosing soundscape.  A slow and moving number, which showcases the more melodic side of Scott Walker.  "The Bridge" is the final original track from Mr Walker on the album; much like "Windows Of The World" it is a slow and stirring number.  Whilst the strings and orchestra are out in force in places here, it is still a number full of passion and reflection; it is a classic Walker number that makes the soul stir and the heart ache.  Ending this record is the cover of "Come Next Spring" which was original by Tony Bennett for film of the same name.  Like the last few numbers, it has that sad and regretful tone; Scott Walker sounds as pitch perfect as ever, but it is a slow number too many for the end of the album.  

I love some of this record, it sings to me from across the years and it has a timeless nature as well.  All of his own songs are gems in the album, the cover of "Jackie" is one of the best versions of the song and some of the other covers are very interesting.  However, the slow pacing of the albums final tracks and those overpowering strings do take a bit of the shine of some of the numbers.  Overall, it is a classic record of the late sixties before the artist formally known as Engel found his true form as an avant-garde legend.  The seeds that started than journey are planted on this record; it is from here that things started to get darker.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Jackie

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

Here is a link to the Scott Walker artist page on his current label; 4AD

Here is a link to the Scott Walker Facebook page

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Here is a link for our Deezer users to hear the album

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