Monday, November 24, 2008

Scott Walker: 'Jesse'

Scott Walker, the man is all shadow and no body. He leaves you clasping at straws in vain attempts to predict or decipher his actions. In fact attempting to classify his work would do injustice to something in essence unclassifiable. We know the history, the Walker Brothers, pop stagnancy, the first classic four solo albums, the wilderness years punctuated by moments of infuriating brilliance. Trying to pin Walker down is an experience not unlike shovelling dust against the wind, but that could be part of the allure.

His incomparable return with ‘Tilt’ in 1995 set us up for what promised to be a series of new major works, but Walker yet again disappeared for a decade, before the surprise announcement of a new album in 2006. ‘The Drift’ is a deeply challenging album for the listener. In short, one must re tune their ears from the drudgery of mainstream audio mush to fully appreciate what is going on here. Walker knows the old trick that the things you can't see are the most frightening, so uses minutes of stealthy ambience before letting loose the violent outbursts. In an interview following the album’s release he stated that he doesn't do arrangements any more, just puts "blocks of sound" here and there, the bitter melodies and discordant vocals, assault the senses and leave you reeling.

Jesse is one of the few straightforward ‘songs’ on the album, in which Walker enters into the lonely, desolate mind of Elvis Presley in his final days, searching for the ghost of his still-born twin Jessie. Mixed in here somewhere is the nightmare vision of September 11th and when Walker intones “I’m the only one left alive”, you believe him. Musically we get a solitary plucked guitar over the colossal orchestral sweeps and bubbling darkness. Walker’s voice has lost none of the intensity that made him famous, even though he’s content to use it for different purposes then before. He reveals the overwhelming melancholy and jaded soul of Elvis, all through his painfully fragile vocals which are pushed to the front of the brutal uncompromising mix. A different level.

Where to find: The Drift (2006)

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