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Category Archives: Scott Walker

A estas alturas la historia de la carrera de Scott Walker es bién conocida: ex ídolo pin-up que disuelve a mediados de 1960 su grupo pop “The Walker Brothers” liberando otros cuatro registros de pop barroco existencial, en los que pone mayor énfasis en propias composiciones. En el cuarto de estos registros, (Scott 4 , 1969, el primero que contiene solo originales de Scott) se esconde en un mundo de covers, country, desvíos western, y más sentimentalismo antes de reaparecer como cantautor en 1978 y gastar las próximas tres décadas con publicaciones infrecuentes, y material cada vez más difícil.

Es una gran historia, de lo más inesperada y fascinante en la música moderna. Lanzado en 1970, un año después de Scott 4, ‘Til the Band Comes In ofreció 10 nuevas composiciones, además de cinco covers, secuenciados al final del registro. El álbum – repudiado por su creador que se mofa de sí mismo en la canción “Bad Cover Version” de Pulp, incluída en el disco producido por Walker, “We Love Life” (2001)– es una concesión de algún tipo, una retirada de su cada vez más personal y singular obra que producía en aquel entonces, pero que no merecía ser relegado a un mero pie de página.

Las nuevas canciones son un paso por debajo de sus dos álbumes anteriores, pero valen la pena. Con créditos de Walker y su manager Ady Semel, la mayoría de las canciones originales fueron diseñados para ser parte de un disco conceptual sobre los residentes de un complejo de apartamentos. Seis de las pistas se ajustan a este diseño, contando historias mayormente rotas, de gente abatida, pensinados solos en “Joe”, del ex bailarín que se convirtió en stripper en “Jean the Machine”, o de un patético sujeto suspirando por el “Time Operator”. (las contribuciones de Semel al proceso siguen siendo un misterio, la única pista provino de la edición en CD, cuyas notas aclaran sobre las canciones removidas por contenido que “ofende a señoras mayores”.

Ocho de las canciones fueron incluídas en el box-set de Five Easy Pieces, lo que sugiere que no reniega de todo ese período – no demuestran el tipo de crecimiento que se pueden encontrar en su obra de los años ’60, pero con frecuencia son impresionantes. Con la ayuda su socio de toda la vida, Wally Stott, las canciones son cuentos exquisitos y delicados, de personas que han dejado atrás los mejores días de su vida, un destino que Walker, con sólo 27 en ese momento, pudo haber sentido.

De estos temas, por lo menos tres se encuentran entre sus mejores trabajos, en particular, “Thanks for Chicago Mr. James”, una carta a un hombre rico homosexual. La pista del título, otra canción melancólica de ruptura, y la conmovedora “Little Things”, con una lista de atrocidades, desde niños hambrientos a vecinos suicidas, proporcionan un break a los horrores de la guerra de Vietnam. Las jazz-inflected “Joe”, y “Time Operator”, la demasiado breve “Cowbells Shakin'”, la suavemente divertida “Jean The Machine”, o la tranquila “The War Is Over (Epilogue)” conspiran para hacer de esto una gran adición al catálogo de Scott Walker.

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By now the story of Scott Walker’s career is fairly well known: Former pin-up idol dissolves his mid-1960s pop group the Walker Brothers then releases four records of challenging and existential baroque pop, placing increased emphasis on his own compositions. When the fourth and best of these records, 1969’s Scott 4– the first to feature only Walker originals– tanks, he hides in a world of covers, country & western detours, and MOR schmaltz before re-emerging as a songwriter in 1978 and spending the next three decades releasing infrequent, increasingly difficult material.

It’s a great story– one of more unexpected and fascinating in modern music– but in order to heighten the sense of tragedy behind Walker’s semi-retirement as a songwriter, it neglects to include the lost, long-out-of-print ‘Til the Band Comes In. Released in 1970, a year after Scott 4, ‘Til the Band featured 10 new Walker compositions (as many as there were on either Scott 3 or 4), plus five interpretations of other people’s songs, all of which were sequenced at the end of the record. Sure the album– disowned by its creator and famously dissed on Pulp’s Walker-produced “Bad Cover Version”– is a concession of sorts, a retreat from the increasingly personal and singular work Walker was producing at the time, but it never deserved to be relegated to a mere footnote.

The Walker originals are a step down from those on his previous two albums but they are worthwhile nonetheless. Credited to Walker and his manager Ady Semel, most of the original songs were designed to be part of a concept record about the residents of a particular apartment complex. Six of the tracks that made it to the record fit this design, telling stories of mostly broken, beaten-down people, from lonely pensioner “Joe” to former dancer-turned-stripper “Jean the Machine” to a man pathetically pining for the “Time Operator”. (Exactly what Semel’s contributions to process was remains a mystery; the only hint came from the 1996 CD release of the record, whose liner notes credit him with editing the songs to remove content that would “offend old ladies.” With Walker at this time on the cusp of abandoning his more adventurous material and focusing purely on entertaining mothers and grandmothers, this sadly may not have been a joke.)

Walker’s originals here– eight of which were featured on box set Five Easy Pieces, suggesting that Walker isn’t disowning the entire period– don’t demonstrate the sort of growth that can be found in his 60s work, but they are frequently stunning. With the aid of longtime arrangement partner Wally Stott, Walker’s songs are exquisite and delicate, tales of people with the best days of their life firmly behind them, a fate that Walker, still only 27 at the time, may have felt himself.

Of these tracks, at least three rank among his best work, particularly “Thanks for Chicago Mr. James”, a Dear John letter to a homosexual sugar daddy (a fact only mentioned in passing rather than dwelled upon). The title track, another melancholy break-up song, and the rousing “Little Things”, which lists atrocities– from starving children and suicidal neighbors to car and airplane crashes– that provide a break from the horrors of the Vietnam War, are nearly as good. The jazz-inflected “Joe” and “Time Operator”, all-too-brief “Cowbells Shakin'”, gently funny “Jean the Machine”, and tranquil “The War Is Over (Epilogue)” conspire to make this a worthy addition to the Walker catalogue.

But what of those oft-dismissed covers, songs that Jarvis Cocker compared to cutural missteps like the Rolling Stones’ 80s work and the “Tom & Jerry” episodes when the typically silent cartoon cat and mouse find their voice? Well, outside of a rather awful take on Kenny Rogers & the First Edition’s “Reuben James” and a ho-hum Henry Mancini song “The Hills of Yesterday”, they aren’t bad. The other three– all arranged by another frequent Walker collaborator, Peter Knight– include covers of Classics IV’s U.S. hit “Stormy”, Michael Legrand’s now-standard “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, and a frankly pretty great take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “It’s Over”. Maybe these songs were included to entice Walker’s “old ladies” constituency to pick up the record– as late as 1969, Walker was performing standards on his own BBC TV show, and that year released a record of those performances– but at least three are worth hearing regardless.

In the end, those songs are inherently compromises and disappointing signposts of what was to come, but they’re not cringeworthy, as they’ve been made out to be. (That tag, unfortunately, is true of much of the rest of Walker’s 70s output.) It would be a stretch to call ‘Til the Band Comes In a lost classic, but it was honestly lost– even difficult to find via file-sharing– and its reissue is a welcome addition to Walker’s fascinating discography. (The record now is being released next week, having been delayed, but can still be pre-ordered at Amazon and doubtless other places.)

It’s tempting to lament the missed material that Walker could have produced throughout his lost decade, and there are very few clues here of how he got from elegant pop to the clattery, mechanistic post-punk he created eight years later. Considering how surprisingly rich the long, drawn-out fourth act of Walker’s career has been, however, he may not have so forcefully set out to prove himself or comfortably engrossed himself into the avant-garde had the process been either gradual or dotted with commercial and creative success. Walker’s personal sacrifices turned out to be our reward, and now he’s paying us once again by allowing the final incredible link of his career see the light of the day.

o en Pitchfork, writen by Scott Plagenhoef