Scott Walker Album Reviews

Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, in Hamilton, Ohio. A former child actor, he left his career as a singer to become a session bassist. In 1965 Walker moved to London with his band The Walker Brothers. Scott became the focal point of the trio, fronting the number one hits ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’ and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. The trio were vastly popular, reportedly enjoying a larger fan club than The Beatles at their peak.

When The Walker Brothers broke up in 1967, Scott Walker launched a solo career. Although he had the voice of a baritone crooner, his records became increasingly experimental. Walker blossomed as a writer – 1969’s excellent Scott 4 was entirely self-penned. When Scott 4 bombed, Walker reverted to safer territory. Struggling with alcohol, he recorded covers albums like The Moviegoer and rejoined The Walker Brothers.

Walker reignited critical acclaim with his dark, intense songs on The Walker Brothers’ 1978 album Nite Flights. He dived into avant-garde through albums like 1995’s Tilt and his collaboration with experimental metal band Sunn O on 2014’s Soused. Walker passed away in 2019, his legacy secure with his ability to succeed both as a crowd-pleasing crooner and an experimental maverick. Walker’s influence can be heard in artists like David Bowie and Soft Cell.

I’m covering all of Walker’s solo albums on this page. There’s a disparity, however; I’ve owned key albums like Scott 4 and Tilt for years yet I’m covering his 1970s covers albums based on a couple of spins on Youtube.

Scott Walker Album Reviews

Scott | Scott 2 | Scott 3 | Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series | Scott 4 | ‘Til the Band Comes In | The Moviegoer | Any Day Now | Stretch | We Had It All

Scott

1967, 7/10
Scott Walker’s solo debut was released six months after The Walker Brothers’ final album. It was immediately successful, reaching #3 on the album charts with its blend of mainstream tunes and edgier songs from Jacques Brel and Walker himself. Over the course of his four self-titled records in the late 1960s, Walker evolved from crooner to auteur. His music became more idiosyncratic and rock-oriented. Accordingly, I find his debut the least interesting of his first four records. Walker’s vocals here are accompanied by the orchestrations of Angela Morley, Reg Guest, and Peter Knight.

Walker adored the theatrical songs of Belgium’s Jacques Brel. He was often the first to record the English translations of Brel’s songs, and his early solo work is closely associated with Brel. Brel’s compositions appear at key points on Scott – the LP opens with Brel’s classic ‘Mathilde’ and closes with the edgy ‘Amsterdam’, while ‘My Death’ closes the first side. Along with Brel’s songs, Walker’s moody ‘Montague Terrace (In Blue)’ is the standout on Scott. Among the covers of movie songs, I appreciate Walker drawing attention to Tim Hardin, covering ‘The Lady Came From Baltimore’.

Scott successfully established Walker as a solo artist, but he’d become more interesting over the remainder of the decade.


Scott 2

1968, 8.5/10
On Scott 2, Walker doubles down on the strongest aspects of his first album. The Jacques Brel covers are even more risqué, while Walker’s own compositions are more numerous and stronger. The arrangements are more daring. Even though the Brel-penned single ‘Jackie’ was banned from radio, Scott 2 topped the UK charts. The liner notes, penned by Jonathan King, quote Walker describing the album as the “work of a lazy, self-indulgent man.”

The dramatic introduction of ‘Jackie’ opens the record – Walker’s able to squeeze all the potential theatrics from lines like “then I would have my own bordellos.” ‘Next’ is an even more provocative Brel song, with Walker singing of his “first case of gonorrhea”. The best of Walker’s originals is ‘Plastic Palace People’, a multi-part composition with a psychedelic edge otherwise missing from Walker’s early records. There’s also another Tim Hardin cover – ‘Black Sheep Boy’ is one of the record’s best songs.

Scott 2 has a better hit rate than the debut, an excellent sophomore record from Walker.


Scott 3

1969, 8/10
Scott Walker had a difficult relationship with fame. In 1968 he spent time away from the limelight, in Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, studying Gregorian Chant. Scott 3 reached #3 on the UK charts, but Walker was starting to shed the mass audience he’d enjoyed with his early solo work. There are no easy listening favourites on Scott 3 – it was entirely written by Walker and Brel, with Walker contributing the first ten songs and ending with three Brel covers.

This division of material makes the pacing of Scott 3 confused – much of Walker’s material is languid and sophisticated, while Brel’s energetic ‘Sons Of’ and ‘Funeral Tango’ are at the backend of the record. Better sequencing would have made for a stronger record. Walker’s songwriting is impressive, however – sophisticated and idiosyncratic on tracks like ‘Copenhagen’ and ‘Big Louise’. Key tracks include the opening ‘It’s Raining Today’ and the brief, guitar-driven ’30th Century Man’, a rare early Walker song without orchestration, which would later provide the title of a Walker documentary.

Scott 3 would have been improved by better sequencing, but it’s a fine showcase for Walker’s songwriting talent.


Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series

1969, 4/10
Walker released three albums in 1969. Two represent Walker letting his muse roam free, exploring his songwriting potential and expressing his inner turmoil. In contrast, Scott Walker Sings Songs from his T.V. Series is a safe middle-of-the-road record. It presents songs that Walker performed in his short-lived TV show Scott, a conventional selection of songs that present him as a successor to Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams.

Like his subsequent 1970s records with no originals, Songs from His T.V. Series has remained out-of-print – Walker was reportedly dissatisfied with them and refused to reissue them. Walker’s vocals are reliably excellent, but these cover albums aren’t on the same level as his more adventurous work. These songs are studio versions of songs featured on his TV series – a 2019 box set, Live On Air 1968-1969, features live songs from the show, including material from his previous solo catalogue.

Because it’s out of print it’s hard to review a coherent copy – I’ve listened to a playlist on YouTube, which is a mix of live and studio versions. But these schmaltzy, orchestrated songs represent the least interesting facet of Walker’s work. They don’t have the undercurrent of darkness that makes his best work compelling. The best songs dial back the cheese a little and let his vocals shine. His cover of Kurt Weill’s ‘Lost in the Stars’ is my favourite track here, along with Richard Farnon’s ‘Country Girl’.

Walker’s a fine singer, but if you’re interested in his career as an auteur and songwriter you can safely skip this record.


Scott 4

1969, 10/10
Other artists that I’ve covered on this site – Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fairport Convention – also released three albums in 1969. All of them saved their best work for last – Scott 4 is Walker’s masterpiece. In a 2006 interview, Walker told The Guardian’s Alex Petridis that he wrote the songs for Scott 4 in a few weeks.

“I seem to remember when I was writing it things really coming on and I just couldn’t stop them” – but these days, the songs can take years to agonisingly construct: “Years ago, I was dealing in more conventional melody and stuff, you had parameters, but this is a completely different ball-game.”

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2006/may/05/popandrock1

Scott 4 seems like the ideal Scott Walker album for 1969 – the strings are toned down, and most songs use a rock rhythm section. All ten songs are written by Walker. But it bombed upon release, a failure that’s blamed on Walker’s decision to release the album under his birthname, Scott Engel. Subsequent reissues are credited to Scott Walker.

‘The Seventh Seal’, based on the Ingmar Bergman movie of the same name, is a terrific opener, dramatic with hints of Ennio Morricone. Walker sounds great exploring a rock-adjacent sound on ‘The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)’ and ‘Hero of the War’. There are more shades of folk and country than before – ‘Duchess’ sounds like a companion piece to Dylan’s ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. ‘Get Behind Me’ and ‘Rhymes of Goodbye’ both dip into country.

Scott 4 is a career highlight, in an impressive yet erratic discography.


‘Til The Band Comes In

1970, 8/10
Scott Walker’s discography is filled with odd turns, so it’s hard to single this one out. But even by Walker’s standards, ‘Til the Band Comes In is a singular record. Walker explores a jazzy big band sound, where the first ten tracks are originals. The superfluous series of covers at the end of the record mark Walker’s transition into a largely directionless body of work for much of the 1970s. It’s more light-hearted than his self-titled records, but it’s still idiosyncratic and fascinating. Walker’s new manager Ady Semel was credited as a co-writer on the originals. Walker explained that “he acts as my censor, vetting all my lyrics and striking out the words likely to harm old ladies”.

The original tracks are strong – notable songs include ‘Thank You for Chicago Mr James’, a gorgeous piece of pop balladry, while the title track has a terrific chorus. The acoustic ‘Cowbells Shaking’ is impressive while ‘Time Operator’ features sampled voices and is haunting and affecting. Walker’s unexpected twists are entertaining – Israeli vocalist Esther Ofarim does a great job on the gorgeous melody of ‘Long About Now’, possibly a little too Broadway for Walker to sing. Walker’s humour is spotlighted on the swinging ‘Jean the Machine’.

There’s enough great material for ‘Til the Band Comes In to rank proudly alongside Walker’s self-titled records. It would be more highly regarded if it didn’t end limply with a series of covers. Walker’s vocal is enjoyable on the lush Mancini tune ‘Hills of Yesterday’, but generally the covers pale in comparison with Walker’s vibrant originals.

If you enjoyed Walker’s body of work in the 1960s, you’ll probably enjoy this too – just switch it off after the tenth track.


The Moviegoer


Any Day Now

1972, 5/10
On the second album from his wilderness years, Walker tackles contemporary pop songs. He’s working with Johnny Franz, who produced The Walker Brothers’ mid-1960s hits. There’s little at stake, and Any Day Now is decidedly a mixed bag. The album’s never been released on CD, although many of the tracks have slipped out on compilations.

Tellingly, three of these songs have never been reissued and they’re the low points. Walker’s dramatic style doesn’t suit the intimacy of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ or Bread’s ‘If’, while his fake accent on the cover of Caetano Veloso’s ‘Maria Bethania’ is a career low. But his takes on adult pop tunes are worthwhile – Jimmy Webb’s ‘If Ships Were Made to Sail’ and ‘All My Love’s Laughter’, Barry Mann’s ‘When You Get Right Down To It’, and Randy Newman’s ‘Cowboy’ all sound great.

Like his other records from his wilderness years, Any Day Now is inessential, but the strong tracks are worthwhile.


Stretch


We Had It All

1974, 5.5/10
Walker’s tenth solo album was coincidentally his final solo album for ten years. He embraces a country sound, recording at Nova Studios, London. He’s indebted to Waylon Jennings’ acclaimed 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes – five of the songs here previously appeared on that record, including four tracks penned by Billy Joe Shaver. He also covers tracks from the Eagles and Gordon Lightfoot. Walker’s rich voice works for country music, even though it feels like he’s dabbling; not a committed country outlaw like Jennings. We Had It All is a respectable country album, but Walker’s still in cruise mode here.

The reinvention of Lightfoot’s ‘Sundown’ in a more mellow and piano-centric arrangement is the record’s highlight. I’m not familiar with Billy Joe Shaver, but on the basis of his four songs here I should become acquainted with his work. It’s fun hearing Walker croon his way through ‘Delta Dawn’.

After We Had It All failed, Scott reformed The Walker Brothers.

10 Best Scott Walker Songs

The Electrician
The Seventh Seal
Track Three
The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)
Jackie
30th Century Man
Plastic Palace People
Nite Flights
Thanks for Chicago Mr. James

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11 Comments

    • Embarrassingly, I heard Neil Diamond’s cover first so that’s how I hear the song in my head. I was listening to a Walker Brothers compilation after you commented yesterday. Maybe I should cover that to represent the Walker Brothers – I only really know Walker’s tracks on Nite Flights and a couple of singles.

      • The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine is one of those faux Phil Spector records, but it’s got to be the best one ever. It’s so great. I didn’t know Neil Diamond did it too. Can’t wait to hear that one.

  1. I looked to see if he ever did Seasons in the Sun but I guess not. That’s the only Jacques Brel song I know. I’ve heard Amsterdam before but I wouldn’t exactly say I know it. I love that record Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.. I should look for it in French by somebody. I only heard the English one.

    • Yeah, I’d be interested in hearing Brel’s original versions some time. I only really know him via Scott Walker’s interpretations.

      • I found it. The Jacques Brel version of Seasons in the Sun and it’s called Le Moribund. I could kind of recognize the tune but not that much. It just sounds like something Edith Piaf would sing. It’s not as cool as Seasons in the Sun. But it was cool to hear it in French anyway

  2. I’m checking to see which Scott Walker album you rated the highest but it looks like you only reviewed one so far. I listened to a big huge list of the Walker Brothers last night and I really really liked it . It’s the kind of 60s records that I like and a lot of covers of songs that I love. I only ever heard the two songs by them before. And I can’t remember which is the Scott Walker album I’ve heard cuz they all got the same name practically. Maybe it was this one here. Idk

    • It will take me a while – I have a bit of a backlog of bits and pieces to finish off before I get into this page properly. Scott 4 is my favourite though – it’s the one he wrote all himself. Coming at him as a rock fan (rather than an easy listening crooner fan), it’s the most appealing.

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