So Deb from the deli downstairs from WFMU today hit me with "when's this Scott Walker album coming out already? It's been ten years since that guy put out Tilt." I admitted that I was excited too, Tilt was one of the most esoteric, uncategorizable and downright brilliant records of the decade, I mean I still haven't completely wrapped my head around it after a hundred listens, both lyrically and musically. She agreed, citing Robert Nedelkoff's dissection of Walker (known to his mam once as Noel Scott Engel) in the Nestful of Ninnies zine where he was citing all these supposed Ricky Ricardo references in the opaque lyrics on Tilt, tying them in with Cuban revolution and all these other disparate things floating around in the bizarro mix of Gregorian chants, crushing industrial-metal rhythms, and mutated, frozen techno. It's rare that you can find someone this committed and serious, a true artist divorced from the trappings of the music biz like Walker that works at his own pace regardless of what the public (or labels) demands, so when he pokes his head above ground it's a real reason to drop what you're doing and take notice. "That guy is on crack," Deb simply said, then she tore me a new one for paying for my food with a twenty dollar bill when she had no change. Even after I offered the info that Mr. W's new record The Drift is hitting the streets via 4AD Records on May 8th! Sheesh. You really gotta walk on eggshells in that place. They never quite forgave me for that time I tripped and dumped my Broccoli Rabe all over Mayor Bloomberg while he was there.
So yes, Scott Walker is a genuine hero in these hallways, and once he even called WFMU's office line to thank us for playing him over the years and talk about sending some LP's; when Kelly Jones tried to keep him on the line to go rouse someone to talk with him he got a bit nervous and said "I don't do interviews!" and quickly disappeared as quickly as he called. No, he sure doesn't, which is why we're posting this segment from BBC's Culture Show this past Thursday (19.3 MB wmv file for download, Mac users should instead just stream the clip on You Tube.) It's his first public TV sitdown in over a decade, actually doing promo for the new album. There's also some previewing of 30th Century Man, a bonafide documentary on Scott directed by Stephen Kijak due out later this year featuring testimonial gushings from the likes of Bowie, Eno, members of Radiohead and others while tracing his whole saga. The BBC show previews a clip or two, and I must say, you gotta love the shot where they're slapping a slab of bacon for percussion in the studio during the making of the new record.
While he insists he is not a recluse, Walker has certainly shown all the trademarks of being a bona-fide enigma. Discovered in the 60's by Eddie Fisher, he formed the Walker Brothers and moved to England where the group stirred up Beatles-style hysteria and huge hits. The rigors of touring ended the group after a visit to Japan and sent Scott off on his own despite the pop success of his past (and even hosting a TV show called Scott); his solo albums to follow in the 70's were dark, moody and strange affairs that were inspired by European cabaret, Camus, Bartok modality and Sartre among other things. While this string of LPs (titled 1, 2, 3, and 4 ) were lofty and ambitious, they also were commercial flops, but revered today by those who understand the true inner struggles he faced and continues to face. The 80's saw sporadic activity, a Julian Cope compilation primer of him with some extensive writings though the years, and while he was not around in the public eye, 1995's Tilt showed that he was indeed paying attention to what was going on in music, taking certain innovative elements and easily bending them around his unique voice and stark, apocalyptic arrangements. But on that album he also invented things that could only have been created by him; he had already turned away work for him by leading moodsetters like Eno and Sylvian (calling the former "clinical" and the latter "someone who has accepted his connection to spirituality while I still struggle"). Press was divided on the results; accusations of a career of deliberate obscurism flew (though the 80s' Climate of Hunter featured none other than Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler, how pop can one get?), while others painted him to be as important an artist as Sinatra in terms of projection of a singular personal vision. Scott did become a bit more public though in recent years; he curated an All Tomorrow's Parties event in the UK (did not perform), did some music for the film Pola X, but again, for the most part has been quite absent from the spotlight. Til now. Word has it that this one trumps Tilt, so absence can indeed be a very good thing when the end quality is near perfect. Live shows stateside may be too much to ask, but who knows? All in all, not a bad story for a man that Christgau once called "Anthony Newley without the voice muscles" and "a male Vera Lynn for late-bloomers who found Paul McCartney too R&B". In terms of longevity, Mr. Engel may just have the ace card.