The back catalogue of Scott Walker part 2

Unbidden, the man proceeded to unburden himself of this memory. It turned out that he was the cleaner in the studios where Scott 3 was recorded. He told tales of Wally Stott that beggared belief and can not be repeated here for decency's sake.

Scott – The Classic Years

 

Eight o clock...

 

Mr. Foster returned from the bar with two pints of mild and two hot Benneys. Discussing Scott at such length had taken its toll on Mr Foster and an effort to recoup lost energies had brought forth several packets of pork scratchings and assorted nuts. Enshrouded in Benedictine vapours the two men once again took note of their surroundings. Through the mist (from the drink, or had it somehow seeped in from outside?) they could see the rump of the works do. Few, it seemed, had escaped the confines of the Royal. But there was no life amongst the men now – glassy eyed they sprawled on seats and stools. Whilst the menfolk lay insensate their wives (who must have been allowed to join them at some predetermined time) were disconcertingly lively and their seating area (just across from Dawson and Foster, and cast in a lurid light due to the multicoloured fairy lights that ran along the wall) resembled nothing less than a Hogarth etching. Replace gin with bottles of something called Vodka Mule, and the scene would have been complete. Mr Dawson shuddered, and took a firm grip on his pint of mild. He knew he must speak on a subject of great import – Scott's classic period.

 

 

Scott 1

 

What had fame, adoration and good living brought Scott? Well, the cover says it all – Scott, hidden behind shades, looks down in a pensive, if not downright miserable pose. God, the cover says, it's hard being an intelligent, existential pop star, it really is. Or is he just cold? As for the music – well, the first three songs offer a microcosm of Scott's first two solo albums. The opener, Mathilde, is a Brel composition. The song starts at a furious pace with full orchestration (Scott sensibly kept the producers and arrangers from The Walker Brothers days) and somehow manages to get even bigger and faster. The second track, Montague Terrace (in Blue), is one of Scott's own compositions and it's a cracker. Scott was already a good songwriter – witness Archangel and Mrs Murphy, for instance – and his talents blossomed once freed from the shackles of The Walker Brothers. Scott's preoccupation on most of his self-penned songs is loneliness. He often writes about people on the margins of society – those cast aside, or forgotten about, and who shuffle though the corridors of their boarding house to spend another evening alone. Montague Terrace features several of these people. The third track, Angelica, is also a cover but is not a Brel composition. Rather it is one of the 'easy listening' numbers that cluttered up Scott 1 and 2. There was pressure on Scott to be the next Sinatra and to offset the racy Brel tracks these covers were present to placate the Tony Bennett and Jack Jones fans. The first two albums then can be equally divided up into Brel/Scott/Cover sections. The romantic standards that make up the latter section are, of course, the weakest. The Brel tracks – hysterical, bitchy and full of camp – are certainly amusing (just think of Scott singing My Death on the Billy Cotton Band Show) but the best tracks are actually Scott's - the aforementioned Montague Terrace, Always Coming Back to You and the wonderful Such A Small Love.

 

Scott 2

 

Scott opened his second solo album with another barnstorming Brel number, Jackie. Other Brel numbers on the album include The Girls and The Dogs (not a feminist anthem, this one) and the ridiculously OTT (well, even more OTT than the others) Next, where Scott sings that he has gonorrhoea and that he wants to chops his legs off and burn himself alive. Walking in the Rain this ain't. Scott's own songs are even more impressive on Scott 2. The Bridge might be the weakest of the bunch but it shows that lyrically he wasn't afraid to challenge his pop / easy listening audience. OK, so he only talks about girls holding their skirts above their heads, and cobblestones stained with wine and piss, but again, this isn't Walking in the Rain. Plastic Palace People is a mini epic that switches (rather like A Day in the Life) between two apparently different songs. It's great too, whatever it is Scott is on about. The Girls From the Streets is a wonderful song, a whirling waltz (set in Paris, surely) but the real belter on Scott 2 is The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. Detailing the life and dreams of a frustrated man it contains brilliant lyrics and is one of the best songs he wrote until Tilt came along. It should also be noted, having mentioned Tilt, that Scott's elliptical lyrics were already in evidence even here – "cellophane sighs" and "pavements of poets", for example.

 

It was this point that Mr Dawson broke off from his reverie. From the corner of his eye he spotted a small, shabby man in flat cap and raincoat. He was probably in his late seventies and it looked as though his life had been spent on the land; his face was contoured by deep lines and his gimlet eyes shone from hollows so deep he could probably see out of the back of his head just as well as he could from the front. It was evident that this strange man had been listening to Mr Foster's and Mr Dawson's conversation. As Mr Foster looked up and caught the gentleman's eye the man cackled with laughter and displayed his three teeth – teeth that resembled nothing more than used matches. His cackle turned into a rheumatic cough and the spittoon rang out so loudly that several punters were shocked into thinking that last orders had been called. He then said, or rather, he gargled: "Scott 3 is the best album. And I should know – I were there when he did it." Unbidden, the man proceeded to unburden himself of this memory. It turned out that he was the cleaner in the studios where Scott 3 was recorded. He told tales of Wally Stott that beggared belief and can not be repeated here for decency's sake. He said how he had never trusted Scott's friend and fellow musician "that nonce Jonathon King." When it came to Scott though he said nothing. "Oh, I've tales to tell," he said, "but I'll be takin' 'em to me grave." This journey, it appeared, would be undertaken soon. And that was his final comment as he stumbled out of pub, giggling to himself as he went. Mr Dawson sighed, and continued with his task.

 

Scott 3

 

Ah – the one described as a collection of manic-depressive waltzes; the one that effectively killed off his career. Because whilst this album charted at number 3 and Scott 4 failed to chart at all, it was surely Scott 3 that caused people to give up on Scott. As such it is the album that real Scott lovers like best. They're like that. Scott 4 might have been entirely self-penned but the true Walkerphile dotes on the most difficult of his classic albums. Scott 3 cast off the dreck – there are no more sloppy standards, just Scott and Brel, and even the three Brel songs were shunted to the back of the album, out of the way. The most obvious thing to note is that the album lacks the ebullience so evident on 1 & 2. The album is also one long shimmer – drums and guitars are almost completely absent. The brass, harp and strings form the backdrop to a series of miniature portraits. Rosemary is seduced by the "stained glass whispers" of a travelling salesman. Big Louise describes the life of a transvestite that has lost her way. 30 Century Man is basically just Scott and acoustic guitar (rather like the tracks on Tilt and The Drift albums). If I were to make a criticism it is that a few of the songs feel more like sketches than finished numbers, however accomplished the arrangements. The album is almost resolutely downbeat and it is only on the Brel number Funeral Tango that any humour can be found. And as the title suggests, it is black humour.

 

Scott 4

 

Written in just a few weeks Scott 4 is a far more muscular album than Scott 3, and is much closer to traditional rock music. Having said that, here's Scott description of the album: 'Scott 4 tried to link lyrics by Satre, Camus and Yevtushenko to Bartok modal lines, but nobody listened.' Oh well. Why was Scott 4 a beefier album than his first three? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Wally Stott took more of a back seat (his arrangement on Boy Child is incredible though) or it might just have been that Scott wanted a rockier sound. Anyway, the album kicks off with The Seventh Seal and nutshells Bergman's film of the same name. It's a great track with an almost Mexican flavour and a wonderful male choir backing Scott (I would love to hear a remix of this with just Scott and choir). Duchess and The World's Strongest Man showed that Scott could write great pop songs. Get Behind Me with a screeching electric guitar (and strings of course, always strings) and the final track (appropriately titled Rhymes of Goodbye) offer glimpses of the years ahead as the uninspired, and at times country-tinged production, hampers Scott's vision.

 

What has changed, then, over the course of these four albums? Well, Scott 1 and 2 described the emotional ups and downs of a young man. Everything was felt incredibly vividly, both love and loss. It was a Technicolor world where the passions ruled and where life was there to be lived, whatever the outcome might be. Scott 3 and 4 offer a very different world-view. Youthful passion has been replaced by a jaded, almost bitter resignation. It told the stories of people who had never had the courage to live, or, if they had, had since been beaten into submission.

 

Words: Chris Dawson.