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NOT the place to start with Scott Walker. If you want to place this material in context, get his first four albums and then NITE FLIGHTS or get some of his earliest work with The Walker Brothers. Then you can see a career trajectory from pop darling to avant garde obscurantist that other artists have taken note of and use as a template for their own attempts to return to critical acclaim. -Ian!

Tilt was Scott Walker’s first album following over a decade of silence, and whatever else he may have done during his exile, brightening his musical horizon was not on the agenda. Indescribably barren and unutterably bleak, Tilt is the wind that buffets the gothic cathedrals of everyone’s favorite nightmares. The opening “Farmer in the City” sets the pace, a cinematic sweep that somehow maintains a melody beneath the unrelenting melodrama of Walker’s most grotesque vocal ever. Seemingly undecided whether he’s recording an opera or simply haunting one, Walker doesn’t so much perform as project his lyrics, hurling them into the alternating maelstroms and moods that careen behind him. The effect is unsettling, to put it mildly. At the time of its release, reviews were undecided whether to praise or pillory Walker for making an album so utterly divorced from even the outer limits of rock reality, an indecision only compounded by its occasional (and bloody-mindedly deceptive) lurches towards modern sensibilities. “The Cockfighter” is underpinned by an intensity that is almost industrial in its range and raucousness, while “Bouncer See Bouncer” would have quite a catchy chorus if anybody else had gotten their hands on it. Here, however, it is highlighted by an Eno-esque esotericism and the chatter of tiny locusts. The crowning irony, however, is “The Patriot (A Single),” seven minutes of unrelenting funeral dirge over which Walker infuses even the most innocuous lyric (“I brought nylons from New York”) with indescribable pain and suffering. Tilt is not an easy album to love; it’s not even that easy to listen to. First impressions place it on a plateau somewhere between Nico’s Marble Index and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music — before long, familiarity and the elitist chattering of so many well-heeled admirers rendered both albums mere forerunners to some future shift in mainstream taste. And maybe that is the fate awaiting Tilt, although one does wonder precisely what monsters could rise from soil so belligerently barren. Even Metal Machine Music could be whistled, after all.

There were intermittent soundtrack and score contributions of varying magnitudes, as well as a couple other low-key projects, but The Drift is Scott Walker’s proper follow-up to 1995’s Tilt, an album that also happened to trail its predecessor by 11 years. If 1984’s Climate of Hunter put the MOR in morose, Tilt avoided the road completely and went straight toward the fractured, fraught images inside Walker’s nightmares. It was entirely removed from anything that could’ve been classified as contemporary. The Drift isn’t an equally severe leap from Tilt, but it is darker, less arranged, alternately more and less dense, and ultimately more frightening. Maybe it’ll make your body temperature drop a few degrees. Working with what Walker has referred to as “blocks of sound,” only a few of the album’s 68 minutes have any connection to rock music, and many of those minutes are part of a harrowing 9/11 song that also obliquely references “Jailhouse Rock” as Elvis Presley cries out (“I’m the only one left alive!”) to his stillborn twin brother. The songs swing from hovering drones to crushing jolts. The blocks that make them, then, differ tremendously in weight, from one that could be pushed by an index finger to one that could only be hauled by a forklift. Whenever a vast shaft of space opens up, it is eventually stuffed with drastic, horrific dissonance. While a song might contain a constant element or two, they’re all in a constant state of unease and flux. Walker’s voice matches the activity levels of the sounds, providing a kind of paranoid croon one minute and then, during another, casting almost demonic projections that are nearly as rattling as the accompaniment. From the outset, the album seems impossibly insular and impenetrable, especially if you’ve been led to believe that Scott Walker’s name is synonymous with recluse, but it has everything to do with real lives (or, more accurately, real deaths). Walker is acutely aware of what’s going on with the world outside his supposed candle-lit bunker; he’s only finding very unique (OK, bloody minded) ways to bring them up. Any mystique behind the recordings is laid to waste by one scene from a documentary, titled 30 Century Man, which shows Walker — a baseball hat-wearing sixty-something man from Ohio — instructing another man on how to thump a slab of meat. It looks and sounds absurd, of course (the participants seem to be aware of this), but then again, the results are used in a song inspired by the public executions of Benito Mussolini and his mistress. Broken spells aside, how much more bleak could this album be? None more bleak.

-Dave Thompson, Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

DOWNLOAD:
Scott Walker-TILT (1995)
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Scott Walker-THE DRIFT (2006)
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