The Collection 1967-1970

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By 1967 Scott Walker stood at the cusp of solo superstardom. Recently split from his fellow “brothers”, Walker, still a teen idol, prepared his solo career. Would America finally fall for its ex-pat, would he be the new Sinatra? A golden voiced crooner selling millions to a new generation of listeners? It was with this air expectation that launched an astonishing run of albums. History tells us this was, and is, hyperbole. Of course Walker never became the figure which so many at the time predicted. He never did “crack” America, he never did become the Jack Jones-esque Vegas playing crooner that his voice could have easily seen him become. What did happen, and what makes it all the more remarkable, is that he produced some of the greatest albums ever put on vinyl. Framed by lyrical preoccupations of, amongst others, prostitution, mortality, sexually transmitted disease and the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, these were no ordinary albums. These were albums of desolation and beauty, madness and majesty backed by ornate orchestral arrangements and occasional, when necessary, sparse instrumentation. Of course, each album has its individual strengths. The eponymous Scott is a predominately covers based work, taking in such writers as Tim Hardin (“The Lady Came from Baltimore”) but mixed with Walker’s own efforts such as “Montague Terrace (In Blue)”. However, the main influence here is that of Jacques Brel, with no less than 3 songs culminating in “Amsterdam”, defiant in the face of then contemporary popular music by depicting whores, piss and drunken fighting sailors. Easy listening this wasn’t, and it made for a stunning opening gambit to Walker’s musical foray. Followed by Scott 2 (who’d have thought?), a 1968 UK Number one no less (L.P. Hartley’s oft used quote “The past is a different country. They do things differently there” has never been so apt), it kicks off with another Brel classic in “Jackie” (its references to “authentic queers and phoney virgins” earning it a BBC ban when released as a single) and carries on from there. Walker’s song writing ability has a stronger presence here and the growing confidence in this ability shows from the at once menacing “Girls from the Streets” to the undeniable dream-like classic “Plastic Palace People”. Scott 3 (sense a theme?), to these ears, perhaps ranks as Walker’s crowning achievement. Beginning with nostalgic “It’s Raining Today” and the paean to his future Danish wife in “Copenhagen” and ending with the triumphant trilogy of Brel culminating with the now standard “If You Go Away”, this is an album of fragility and occasional bursts of bombast but one that is expertly pitched. Take “Two Ragged Soldiers”, a tale of two ageing vagrants that could so easily fall into the trap of sentimentality, but instead paints a picture of genuine pathos that is at once engaging and poignant, its lyrical themes matched by the superb Sibelius-evoking orchestration. Walker followed this (which, like his debut, reached 3 on the UK charts) by an album that effectively destroyed his career as a charting and big selling solo artist. Released under his birth name of Noel Scott Engel, Scott 4 is often regarded as the pinnacle of Walker’s career as a writer. Containing 10 self-composed songs, Scott 4 sees Walker’s lyrical pre-occupation of the era reach its apotheosis, ranging from the opening Ingmar Bergman theatrics of “The Seventh Seal” and taking in Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus on its way. The album differs slightly from his previous solo work with a more pronounced reliance on perhaps more contemporary instrumentation but is also one that is superbly orchestrated, the baroque pieces of “Angels of Ashes” and “Boy Child” being case in point. That this album didn’t sell is one of the great crimes in musical history. “Scott 4” was followed by “’Til The Band Comes In”, often regarding as the runt of the late sixties solo years litter (pedants amongst you will cry that Walker’s top ten hit ...Sings Songs From His TV Series was also released during this period pre- Scott 4 but is not included in this set). Although not worthy of the moniker “Scott 5”, the album is an overlooked gem particularly the title track and “Thanks For Chicago Mr. James” which stand up with the best of Walker’s work. After that Walker fell into a rut of cover albums, predominately Middle of the Road in execution and production and sold to a rapidly diminishing band of admirers. A reunion of The Walker Brothers briefly restored commercial fortunes with “No Regrets” and a brief artistic renaissance with his four self penned songs on “Nite Flights” which ultimately led to the experimentalist that exists today. It is, however, the remarkable run of albums beginning in 1967 that Walker will ultimately be remembered. The clues to this were there (take the self penned baroque majesty of “Archangel” from The Walker Brothers) but what nobody could foresee was the sheer brilliance of his run of late 1960s albums. Of course, ’Til the Band Comes In suffers in the face of the genius onslaught of the first 4 solo albums and it is these that Walker is ultimately judged. These are unquestionably essential albums and ones that should be in every genuine music lover’s collection.