Scott Walker's late 60s work grew out of the crooner tradition, but this, the fourth and most acclaimed of his solo albums has a lot more. Its orchestral arrangements are from the Phil Spector school, but they're lushly varied and have their own distinctive spaciousness, as if the orchestra was heard from the other side of a cathedral. Instead of slushy love songs, the lyrics are firmly on the erudite side, from Bergman movies to cynical political prose. And of course, the star attraction is that creamy baritone voice.
To those like me who discovered Scott Walker via the uniquely eerie, left-field "Tilt", this album is in a different world. But while it does often fall back on plainer Moody Blues style ballads, the stand-out tracks make "Scott 4" well worth it. Swaggering tune "The Seventh Seal" is backed with spaghetti-western choral humming, Spanish guitar and trumpet tootles. But most of all, there's "Boy Child". It's one of those rare songs that show what can be done with just the simple expressiveness of the human voice. Walker's inflections are perfectly timed, and the tingling harmonic shift, restrained orchestral rumbling, and luminous sound of the dulcimer combine subtly to wrench every bit of emotion from this relatively simple tune. There's foreshadowings of This Mortal Coil's exquisite version of "Song to the Siren".
Other highlights include "Hero of the War", which packs a Roger Waters-like sarcasm with strumming and distorted strings. This reminds me of Pink Floyd's "Corporal Clegg", Waters' earliest war song, which appeared around the same time. But even more savagely political is "The Old Man's Back Again", whose piercing bassline and cinematic orchestral trappings give a theatrical power to its anti-totalitarian theme. "On Your Own Again" would have been too syrupy if it had gone on for a couple more minutes, but as it is, it's a perfectly formed mini-symphonic ballad. Tracks like "The World's Strongest Man" and "Rhymes of Goodbye" are on the wet side, though some girl backing singers add a perky bit of Tim Buckleyish folk fluff to "Get Behind Me".
August 9, 2005