If you could assemble your dream band, who’d be in it? Personally, whilst the musicians change each time I put the line up together, the singer is always the same. It’s always Scott Walker.
On his early records Walker sang like an angel and wrote words that were beautifully poetic. If I had to pick a favourite line it would be from “Duchess” on Scott 4, “With your shimmering dress, it says ‘No’, it says ‘Yes’, it says ‘I’ve got nothing left for conceiving.’”
Walker could have been the biggest pop star on the planet in the 60s, but chose to follow artistic satisfaction rather than fame. So in 2016, instead of performing a residency in Las Vegas, he’s composed an orchestral soundtrack for a film about the youth of a fictional dictator, The Childhood of a Leader. As a body of work its equal parts innovative and unsettling but above all, uncompromising.
How did this maverick arrive in such an interesting place? Having found fame with The Walker Brothers, life as a member of the 60s equivalent of a boy band – albeit one that performed Phil Spector-esque ballads - didn’t do it for the very private Mr Noel Scott Engel. So he abandoned ship and recorded his astonishing Jacques Brel inspired solo albums Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4 before briefly reuniting with The Walker Brothers in the 70s.
When Julian Cope released the compilation Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker in 1981 Walker underwent a reappraisal. Typically however, rather than return with an album of ballads he released Climate of Hunter which was resolutely experimental. And that was it until 1995s Tilt which saw him embracing industrial music in places, the first of a trilogy followed eleven years later with The Drift and completed with 2012s Bish Bosch.
He’s also collaborated with other musicians in recent years, lending his voice to a duet with Bat For Lashes on “The Big Sleep” from Two Suns and the album Soused with Sunn O))). The Childhood of a Leader doesn’t feature Walker's spectacular voice however, and instead focusses on his prowess as a composer.
Throughout the arrangements Walker tells the films’ story through hypnotic, unsettling music. “Opening” has such a foreboding feel it sounds like a horror film soundtrack, the strings sweep and soar, intercut with jagged violin stabs and accompanied by brass creating the sound of what sounds like bees swarming. Easy listening it isn’t, but ever since he wrote “The Electrician” on The Walker Brothers Nite Flights album, Walker’s never been afraid of creating unnerving music.
The titles, and occasionally the music, are literal descriptions of the film scenes; “Down the Stairs” is followed by “Up the Stairs” where Walker has the 62 piece orchestra sounding like they’re playing ambient music before ending with an elongated held note. “Printing Press” is the sound of the machine of the title, recalling the mechanical sounds of Tilt.
There’s a three piece passage that’s a particular standout. Starting with the ominous “On the Way to the Meeting” it moves into “The Meeting”, which again recreates the sound of bees. One of the drawbacks of listening to a film soundtrack is you can’t see the visual but by the sound of the music “The Meeting” doesn’t go very well to say the least, which is confirmed on the music to “Post Meeting” which would fit on the Psycho soundtrack. Like the score to a Hitchcock film, the music here teems with intricacy, menace and tension.
Scott Walker is more interested in moving forward than looking back and with the soundtrack to The Childhood of a Leader his music is as unique as ever. It also solves another problem in my fantasy band game; Scott Walker would write the string arrangements as well as being the singer. Now I just need to decide on the other musicians.