Scott Walker: 30 Century Man CD - Lakeshore
Twelve quite divergent artists have come together to create this tribute album to reclusive cult recording figure Scott Walker. Not really the soundtrack to Stephen Kijak's incisive documentary of the same name (finally available on domestic DVD), Scott Walker: 30 Century Man was produced by Kijak as an extension of his documentary, allowing musicians who did not participate in the film to voice their own imprimatur. Walker's story is an unusual one: born in the Midwest as Noel Scott Engel, he begins recording in the late fifties under the stage name Scotty Engel, hoping to catch the new teen idol wave. Success, as they say, is not forthcoming. Not overly discouraged, Walker wanders west, hooks up with two fellow musicians in California, giving birth to The Walker Brothers, and all three soon relocate to England in 1965. Success, as they say, is instantaneous and massive. In fact, in the mid-sixties The Walker Brothers give the likes of The Beatles serious pop chart competition in the UK, and ironically even move some units in the US as part of the sixties British Invasion. Alright, pretty standard rock 'n' roll tale so far, you say, but here's where things begin to go really strange. The Walker Brothers call it a day in 1967, the other two quickly sinking into obscurity. Walker embarks on one of those solo careers that initially appear to be guided by the gods. The first solo albums, despite an approach to pop by Walker that is at once retro big band crooner and oddly subversive, an antithesis of his work with the Brothers, all snuggle into Hitsville, UK. But by the end of the sixties something clicks in Walker. He begins writing all his own material and a fickle public wanders away. The seventies are an arid time, populated by uneven recordings that don't sell. Apart from an ill-fated reunion with the Brothers in the late Seventies, Walker releases only one record in the two decades between 1974 and 1995. The former supplicant to fame and fortune doesn't give interviews and shuns publicity. Still, the cognoscenti are tuned in. The music he makes since the stunning desolation and avant presentation of 1995's Tilt, has been difficult to say the least, but fully rewarding, arguably the best of his career. So, how does a pop-star, a major player in the machine, go from manufactured boy wonder to mature maker of significant art? That's what the film explores. On this tribute disc, Kijak and his collaborators have chosen songs drawn from Walker's entire solo career, from Little Annie & Firewater's Paul Wallfisch's interpretation of "Such A Small Love," taken from the first 1967 solo album, Scott, to Jarboe's chilling reading of "A Lover Loves," from 2006's The Drift. Other contributors in this somewhat improbable assemblage include Nicole Atkins, Saint Etienne, Ulrich Schnauss and Dot Allison. Laurie Anderson's minimalist couching of "The Electrician," an abstract and scathing ramble about the abuse of power inherent in dictatorship (from the 1978 final Walker Brothers album, "Nite Flights") fairly prickles with foreboding. Damon & Naomi check in with "The World's Strongest Man" taken from 1969's Scott 4, an odd choice (and surely a personal favorite) from a particularly strong album, benefits from their gentle sad-core esthetic. But, I think I like best here the ethereal doo-wop touch placed by Peter Broderick on the lovely "Duchess" (also from Scott 4). While every artist on this tribute album has brought his own unmistakable elan, what is most impressive is that each has been comfortable enough to let Walker come through these interpretations uninterrupted. This results in the disc holding together as a piece, something rare for a tribute album.
By Michael Meade