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Scott Walker improves with age

By Aaron Burnstein
On January 23, 2013


Excuse my fanboy-ism, but there's a mythic quality to Scott Walker's oeuvre. His latest release, "Bish Bosch," is perhaps his most ceremonious, which is likely a result of two factors. First, it's the end of a proclaimed trilogy, which brings about a certain sense of closure, as well as a sense of wonder in regard to his next project, whatever it may be. Second, unlike his previous two (non-soundtrack-related) releases, "Tilt," and "The Drift," "Bish Bosch" was not 11 years in the making. It took a measly six years, which is nothing by Scott Walker's standards. There was a special sense of gratification upon the announcement of the release of "Bish Bosch."

A brief history lesson is in order before moving on to the actual content of the album. Scott Walker started out in the mid-60's with a sunshiny pop group called The Walker Brothers (fun fact: none of them were brothers), who appeared to be on the fast track to fortune and fame. However, the band dissolved just as they seemed about to hit it big, and Scott Walker recorded five beautiful, but not commercially viable baroque pop albums. Disillusioned, he spent much of the 70s releasing covers of kitschy show tunes in order to pay the rent. A brief Walker Brothers reunion in the late 70s hinted at a dark experimentalism that would come to greater fruition on Walker's 1984 release "Climate of the Hunter." Eleven years of silence would pass before 1994's "Tilt," a suffocating, nightmarish work of avant-garde devastation that even "Climate of the Hunter" could not have predicted, and the purported start of his trilogy. "The Drift," the 2006 follow-up, was even more violent, yet equally brilliant. 

There enters "Bish Bosch." So where does "Bish Bosch" stand within the trilogy? The quick answer would be that it's the worst, but that would be selling it short. It's an album that's been forced to live up to impossible standards. To be perfectly honest, "Tilt" will always be my favorite, since it most effectively utilizes quiet segments for emotional impact. On the other end of the spectrum, "Bish Bosch" is the most reliant on loudness and dissonance in order for a track to really cook. "Bish Bosch" is probably Scott Walker's most straightforwardly savage release. As a result, it does not come off quite as nuanced as some of Walker's other material. 

The album is not without its high points, of course. The lead single, "Epizootics!" features a snazzy baritone sax line that constructs the perfect blend of catchy and unsettling. The opener, "See You Don't Bump His Head," is a manic, percussive piece over which Walker's voice beautifully rises and settles. "Phrasing" matches the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere of some of the best moments on "Tilt." The closer, "The Day the 'Conducator' Died (An Xmas Song)" is as ice-cold as the season, yet the vocals are delivered with delicate warmth.

The fact remains that "Bish Bosch" has an intensity that would send most metal bands home with their tails between their legs. And it's all coming from a man who recently turned 70. Though the album may seem rushed by Scott Walker's standards, a new release from one of the most innovative and uncompromising artists of his time is nothing short of a joy. 

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