Friday, May 19, 2006


This is a frighteningly dark, intense record…strings like a murderer's knife scraping on your bedroom window...percussion is like a parasite sucking blood from decaying flesh…enough to provoke nightmares in deep, scared physiological realms.
Walker's fevered, diseased imagination has painted a portrait of a world broken, choking on its own vomit, devoid of salvation, screaming in pain, lost without faith.

- Tony Heywood

And I’m here to tell you it’s the record of the year.

If you’re familiar with the Scott Walker story, you know how Noel Scott Engel first knew chart success with The Walker Brothers and hits like The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More and Make It Easy On Yourself.

Disillusioned with the limitations of pop music, Scott started to take his cues from Jacques Brel and European art song. Moving to England, Walker developed a cult following that included everyone from David Bowie to Julian Cope.

Somewhere along the way, his musical expression mutated into something difficult to classify. It retained that dark sensibility and then went further into realms that startled any former fans still following his career.

This is by necessity a very slim thumbnail sketch. I suggest that anyone interested in learning more about him just google up the many reviews of his latest recording The Drift, his first in ten years and his third in thirty.

Those three records, Climate Of Hunter, Tilt, and The Drift are among the most fascinating and challenging works you could hope to run across, especially coming from someone who began public life as a pop sensation.

Critics who saw Tilt as the ultimate in hermetic avant-garde expression now have to contend with The Drift, which not only makes Tilt seem tuneful by comparison, but which makes no compromises in taking on the horror and darkness of the early 21st century.

It feels funny to bring this up after the Beckett post, as the pared-down allusive lyrics invite comparison. This isn’t some mere wallowing in doom, either. Listening to The Drift creates the sometimes terrifying sensation that someone has pulled away all of the veils we use in order to make life livable. And the truth, if sometimes dark, is always a tonic in the end.

Medieval savagery
calculated cruelty

It’s hard to pick
The worst moment

Somewhere in the obscure lyrics and sudden blasts of noise is a singer demanding an accounting for the savagery of the world. It doesn’t make for easy listening.

Cossacks are
charging in

Charging into
fields of
white roses

There are songs about 9/11, the execution of Mussolini, and celebrity. About halfway through, the fifth track of ten, comes Cue, a ten-minute meditation on our slow journey into the frightening new world of deadly unknown viruses that mock the concept of immunity as they develop

Strain after
strain after
strain after

It’s one of the most frightening things I’ve ever heard. If you were here, I’d tell you how good it was, but I’m not sure I’d play it for you. I’m not sure I’d want that on my conscience.

The record ends with a deathbed scene whose final words are certainly worthy of Beckett. After setting the scene by singing

A hand
that is
in another

Walker ends the album with

and everything

within reach

Has anyone ever expressed more simply and more eloquently the thin razorline between life and death, between being there one moment and not the next?