Scott Walker was a badass. He had such a beautiful, honeyed, and hovering baritone, he inspired David Bowie to sing the same way. Seriously, who the fuck inspires someone like David Bowie? Scott Walker, that’s who. Scott died today at 76 years old leaving behind a legacy few could imagine. He started as a ’60s pop icon with The Walker Brothers. Their version of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” haunts radio stations throughout the world. This overly cheery ’60s pop melody has lyrics like, “Emptiness is a place you’re in with nothing to lose but no more to win. The Sun ain’t going to shine anymore.” The oddity of this song feels symbolic to where Scott’s career would eventually go. Unlike so many other ’60s popstars, Scott didn’t continue repackaging the same shit for the next fifty fucking years. I would argue that Scott’s musical legs wouldn’t stretch, take root, and grow their ominous smile until he reached forty. This is when Scott Walker really stopped giving a fuck. He broke out of his drunkenly optimistic ’60s pop icon shell and was crowned the brooding godfather of the avant-garde. He went from shoo-bopping to preteens to Stockhausening the goddamn void. Genre didn’t define Scott, Scott defined Scott. That was his legacy.
Back in ’67, Scott ran from his pop stardom straight into a monastery on the Isle of Wight to study Gregorian chant. Basically? Dude was fucking done with the hobble-dee-goo of sex stardom. Luckily for us, Scott’s girlfriend introduced him to the genius of Jacques Brel. Scott released the albums Scott , Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4 in the style of his new hero. Picture Frank Sinatra going through an existential crisis, ripping out chunks of his own hair, and screaming out to his defiant god from his knees in heavy rain about death, lost love, and the pain of his continuous mental decline and you’ll have a glimpse into the world of Jacques Brel. Motherfucker’s haircut should get an honorary philosophy degree. The lyrics from these four Scott Walker albums revolve around subjects like fat prostitutes, Joseph Stalin, cross-dressers, and thoughts of suicide. This was clearly a different universe from “The British Invasion” style that the Walker Brothers piled on to. These albums didn’t do all that well. The strange and dissonant strings set next to Scott’s crooner voice was too much for fans of his boyish charm. There are hints within these albums to what Scott would go on to do for the rest of his life.
After a reunion show with The Walker Brothers, a decade of nothing, and everyone either forgetting or giving up entirely on Scott, he released this album. The bleak, brooding, dense, and pure beautiful cry of this album is unparalleled. This shit is like if McCartney disappeared from the world after breaking up with The Beatles, only to return after a decade of silence to release an operatic avant-garde album that’s as naked, dark, and personal as Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”. The only semblance left to Scott’s previous self is his mellifluous baritone, more tender and vulnerable with age, set behind a barrage of orchestral and instrumental exoticism that would go on to inspire droves of eclectic musicians including a young 20-something named Thom Yorke and Brain Eno. If the crowned prince of the fucking ’60s could do this, anyone could. Scott paved the way. Best thing? This motherfucker was the first part of a trilogy.
The second of Scott’s trilogy wouldn’t come out till ’06. Sure, he did an array of other things during this time, including producing Pulp’s album “We Love Life”, but that’s not why he waited so long. In short? Scott didn’t fucking care if his trilogy sold well. This was his art and his legacy. The world could damn well wait till it was fine and fucking ready. The Drift is a hard album to chew through. It’s out there. If pop music is candy, a healthy meal is like jazz or classical, then this motherfucker is a vitamin shot pumped directly into your heart by a syringe with a long ass needle. It’s ominous. It’s discomforting. It’s noise. It’s a black inky mess of sound. It brings up disease, torture, 9/11, and Elvis Presley yelling out, “I’m the only one left alive!” to his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. But it’s a piece of Scott’s soul. On this album, Scott’s baritone feels like a wraith infecting the orchestral noise. It’s some of the more honest and revealing work a musician has ever released. Is it difficult to listen to at times? Oh fuck ya. Shit could get you Elliott-Smith depressed. But it’s also some of the most interesting work you’ll ever hear. In my opinion, this is Scott’s greatest album. Yes, it’s stranger than watching a human-sized maggot striptease to your mother singing a lullaby, but it also peels back every defensive smile and social lie to reveal Scott, as some fucked up dude, with some serious shit to say.
Bish Bosh, the final of Scott’s trilogy, is weird as fuck. Like, holy shit, this is fucking weird. It uses the two previous albums as stepping stones to reach the greatest of heights of WTFness. This is the avant-garde of the avant-garde. It’s loud. It’s disorientating. It’s your scariest nightmare’s nightmare after it watched a fucked up horror movie. This shit would make Zorn and Lynch raise their eyebrows. It’s an album you set alongside Captain Beefheart’s Trout Fish Replica. It’s an album music lovers will argue about for hours on end to determine if it’s even music. But, without this album, Bowie wouldn’t have made Blackstar. Sounds in this album have echoed across so many different genres. This shit changed the fucking game. This album fills you with a tension and fear like a good horror movie does, and it’s equally as addictive. It’s no wonder that two years after this Sunn O))) would collaborate with Scott on their album Soused. Scott became known as the guy to come to if you wanted to make some fucked up, non-commercial, and genre-defying shit.
Like horror movies in general, Scott Walker isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But even if you hate every one of his albums, it’s inspiring as fuck to see someone so uncompromising toward their goal. Scott moved from sex icon, to a brooding crooner, to an avant-garde master. If Scott’s life left a moral behind, it would be that no matter how weird, bizarre, unconventional, unorthodox, offbeat, or fucked up you are, never let the cookie-cutter bastards standing around you define you. You define you. Because even if you are dark, depressing, cracked, broken, and confused, if you’re completely honest to the world about who you are, you’ll find a great and reliable few that will accept and greet you with open arms. Scott accepted the freaks and the weirdos. He allowed those like Pulp, Sunn O))), Bat for Lashes, Radiohead, Eno, and Bowie to feel accepted. He paved the way for the freaks to play and the world is better for it.