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One of the most enigmatic figures in rock history, Scott Walker was known as Scotty Engel when he cut obscure flop records in the late ’50s and early ’60s in the teen idol vein. He then hooked up with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form the Walker Brothers. They weren’t named Walker, they weren’t brothers, and they weren’t English, but they nevertheless became a part of the British Invasion after moving to the U.K. in 1965. They enjoyed a couple of years of massive success there (and a couple of hits in the U.S.) in a Righteous Brothers vein. As their full-throated lead singer and principal songwriter, Walker was the dominant artistic force in the group, who split in 1967.

Scott Walker’s success as a teen idol singer of Spectorish ballads with the Walker Brothers in no way prepared listeners for the mordant, despairing lyrics of his solo debut. To compound the surprise, he does his best to imitate the vocal girth of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra on this mix of original tunes and covers, which also features sweeping, bloated orchestral arrangements. It was hardly rock, and pop of a most oddball sort, but it found a surprisingly large audience — in Britain, anyway, where it reached the Top Three in 1967. Poke behind the velvet curtain of the languid MOR arrangements, and one finds a surprisingly literate existentialist at the helm of these proceedings. His lyrical nuances were probably lost on his audience of predominately teenage girls, though they’ve earned him a small cult audience that endures to this day. Besides presenting three of his own compositions, Walker covers tunes by Weill/Mann, Tim Hardin, and Andre & Dory Previn on this album, as well as three songs by his favorite writer, Jacques Brel. Highlights include his exquisitely anguished rendition of Brel’s classic “Amsterdam” and his dramatic cover of the early-’60s Toni Fisher pop ballad “The Big Hurt.”

Although Walker’s second album was his biggest commercial success, actually reaching number one in Britain, it was not his greatest artistic triumph. His taste remains eclectic, encompassing Bacharach/David, Tim Hardin, and of course his main man Jacques Brel (who is covered three times on this album). And his own songwriting efforts hold their own in this esteemed company. “The Girls From the Streets” and “Plastic Palace People” show an uncommonly ambitious lyricist cloaked behind the over-the-top, schmaltzy orchestral arrangements, one more interested in examining the seamy underside of glamour and romance than celebrating its glitter. The Brel tune “Next” must have lifted a few teenage mums’ eyebrows with its not-so-hidden hints of homosexuality and abuse. Another Brel tune, “The Girl and the Dogs,” is less controversial, but hardly less nasty in its jaded view of romance. Some of the material is not nearly as memorable, however, and the over-the-top show ballad production can get overbearing. The album included his first Top 20 U.K. hit, “Jackie.”

Scott Walker’s final British Top Ten album was the first to be dominated by his own songwriting. Ten of the 13 tunes on this 1969 LP are originals; the remaining three, naturally, were written by one of his chief inspirations, Jacques Brel. There are some interesting moments here. “Big Louise” talks about a hefty prostitute with shocking explicitness for a pop star album of the era. “Copenhagen” (like much of Walker’s ’60s work) foreshadows David Bowie. “Funeral Tango” is a particularly vicious Brel song. “30 Century Man” is an uncommonly folkish and focused tune for Walker. “We Came Through” is an oddball cavalry charge featuring one of his occasional forays into Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western-like production. The tension between Walker’s dense, foreboding lyrics and orchestral production is unusual, to say the least. But too often, it’s too difficult to penetrate Walker’s insights through Wally Scott’s string-drenched production. It shrouds the lyrics in a fog that’s often too syrupy to justify the effort needed to fight through it.

Walker dropped out of the British Top Ten with his fourth album, but the result was probably his finest ’60s LP. While the tension between the bloated production and his introspective, ambitious lyrics remains, much of the over-the-top bombast of the orchestral arrangements has been reined in, leaving a relatively stripped-down approach that complements his songs rather than smothering them. This is the first Walker album to feature entirely original material, and his songwriting is more lucid and cutting. Several of the tracks stand among his finest. “The Seventh Seal,” based upon the classic film by Ingmar Bergman, features remarkably ambitious (and relatively successful) lyrics set against a haunting Ennio Morricone-style arrangement. “The Old Man’s Back Again” also echoes Morricone, and tackles no less ambitious a lyrical palette; “dedicated to the neo-Stalinist regime,” the “old man” of this song was supposedly Josef Stalin. “Hero of the War” is also one of Walker’s better vignettes, serenading his war hero with a cryptic mix of tribute and irony. Other songs show engaging folk, country, and soul influences that were largely buried on his previous solo albums.

While remaining virtually unknown in his homeland, Walker launched a hugely successful solo career in Britain with a unique blend of orchestrated, almost MOR arrangements with idiosyncratic and morose lyrics. At the height of psychedelia, Walker openly looked to crooners like Sinatra, Jack Jones, and Tony Bennett for inspiration, and to Jacques Brel for much of his material. None of those balladeers, however, would have sung about the oddball subjects — prostitutes, transvestites, suicidal brooders, plagues, and Joseph Stalin — that populated Walker’s songs. His first four albums hit the Top Ten in the U.K. — his second, in fact, reached number one in 1968, in the midst of the hippie era. By the time of 1969’s Scott 4, the singer was writing all of his material. Although this was perhaps his finest album, it was a commercial disappointment, and unfortunately discouraged him from relying entirely upon his own material on subsequent releases.

-Richie Unterberger, allmusic.com

DOWNLOAD:
SCOTT WALKER 1 (1967)
SCOTT WALKER 2 (1968)
SCOTT WALKER 3 (1969)
SCOTT WALKER 4 (1969)
320kbps

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4 Comments

  1. Fantastically awesome. Ever since hearing “The Old Man’s Back Again” (incredible!) I have been wanting to hear more Scott Walker.

  2. thanx. fyi, The “Scott 3” zip file is corrupted after download — I’ve re-downloaded 3 times, with different browsers: “If you go away” is gone away

  3. sweet.does not get better than scott walker

  4. Hey IanBig Scott Walker fan here. have you heard “Climate of the Hunter”? Its a really strong album as well, pretty under-appreciated. Even “Till The Band Comes In” has its moments, despite being one of the least loved of his solo albums. Scott Walker is undoubtedly a genius!


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