Albums

Album Review: Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused

Scott Walker has had a pretty unique career. The singer known to one generation as a chamber pop star, producing hits with his two ‘brothers’, neither of them related. Songs like ‘No Regrets’ and ‘Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ were released by a boy band, the type whose cars were flipped over by screaming Liverpudlian fan girls. What happened next was akin to Harry Styles leaving 1D and releasing a collaborative album with Charles Manson.

On his solo quadrilogy, Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4, he sang lavish Jacques Brel covers; Brel writing not of broken hearts of course but of the thighs of prostitutes and the port of Amsterdam. Scott’s own songs began to follow a similar ilk, and by the time his definitive ballad “The Electrician” came out on The Walker Brother’s final album, he had rather reassigned his assets. Scott has a voice that could rival Sinatra’s, but instead of sticking to teary-eyed standards he sang a song about torture and the electric chair, not crooning but choking, his beauteous voice collapsing in on itself and breaking as he wailed. He never looked back. His 2012 release, Bisch Bosch, featured the sound of a slab of meat being beaten and a line about a ‘tooting sphincter.’ Scott has a face made for posters on school girls’ walls, sings with a voice made to serenade about parisian nights; yet he is driven by a mind that is bleak, disgusting and unknowingly horrific.

Long since gone are the days of Montague Terrace; some of the words that appear here are barely lyrics, or even poetry

Pre-Soused Walker stood alone; a unique talent, one with a back catalogue that would evoke jealously in a great many artists, using his beautiful voice to make music most horrific. Like the song “The Electrician” that started Scott’s descent towards darkness, the music here blends the exquisite with the murky and disgusting. It’s an intoxyfying potion, and a tradition which Soused continues with glee. The opening track “Brando”, named after Marlon himself, erupts with simmering waves of distant synthesiser, the first snippet of Scott’s soliloquy broken by a stammering industrial guitar. As the bass thickens a whip lashes through the mix. It’s not too heavy but it is thick, and dense: an all-encompassing drone – the shuddering of Stephen O Malley’s guitar relentless through not just the first song, but almost every second of the album’s runtime. There’s certainly something of the pagan or the Viking about Soused’s dense orchestration, be it the aforementioned flogging or the occasional distant clattering of iron chain. ‘I took it from Saxon!’ Scott wails over the beating of a war drum. In other words, it’s an album which imbues itself with a sense of the archaic, of the mythological and scriptural, before a word is spoken. When he pipes up however, Scott’s lyricism remains scattered and bleak. Long since gone are the days of Montague Terrace; some of the words that appear here are barely lyrics, or even poetry. What is the intention of “Lullaby””s ‘tonight my assistant will pass among you… the most intimate personal choices and requests central to your personal dignity will be sung’, beside simply scaring the listener you shitless?

‘Bull’ opens charging like its namesake; it was this track that served as the album’s teaser in September and it’s easy to see why

It’s at the album’s black beating heart where the pairing comes together most sublimely; “Bull” and “Fetish” are certainty the most exhilarating Scott Walker songs in some time. ‘Bull’ opens charging like its namesake; it was this track that served as the album’s teaser in September and it’s easy to see why, Sun O)))’s raging riffs surge in the rear of Scott’s dying cries; if Soused is something mythological then this is Vesuvius erupting. “Fetish” meanwhile lends more to the Bisch Bosch school of musicianship; it’s an unsettling journey that starts with the phrase ‘red blade points knife the air’ to which a sharp succession of chords spring from the drone. The whole track plays out like a horror movie; a jaunty piano belonging in an Alfred Hitchcock flick clatters after a moment of restraint, what sounds like a broken alarm clock follows a string of salt-shaker percussion around the halfway mark. Tellingly however, the song’s scariest moment comes when the guitars fade out almost to silence, and Scott croons in the void. At this point, being left suddenly alone with this man is something quite chilling. With only 5 songs in its makeup, even the song title’s stand striking on an iPod screen, or the lettering on an LP. ‘Brando.’ ‘Herrod 2014.’ ‘Bull.’ ‘Fetish.’ ‘Lullaby.’ Every moment is intended as a gut punch, and for the most part the music holds this steady tension throughout.

It sounds often as though Scott sung alone, and Sunn O))) were brought in to soundtrack his bleeding heart

This is not to say it doesn’t slip however. The weakest song on the album is, at 12 minutes in length, also it’s longest, and it’s no coincidence, for its runtime is its downfall. The stretch isn’t felt until the song surpasses the length of its fellow tracks; at which point we get 3 minutes of what feels like treaded water. The instrumentation brings nothing new to the table, the song’s key vocal phrasings are simply repeated; it’s an unnecessary overindulgence that serves as the only moment when one’s attention could wander. It could also be levied at the album that it really only services one of its contributors; ‘Sun O)))’ as a phrase appears very little in this review and for good reason; this is a Scott Walker album through and through. The infamous metal trio leave a shadow of the personality that the ex-Walker Brother does. It sounds often as though Scott sung alone, and Sunn O))) were brought in to soundtrack his bleeding heart, or that Walker wrote every line and the band were just hired hands to play his instructions and sell a few more records.

Soused sounds a fair bit like Bisch Bosch Part Two, albeit a better and more refined selection of music

For all the discussion as to whether what Scott Walker makes is even music anymore, and indeed his post-Tilt output is idiosyncratic in extrimis, this is likely his most accessible album since said release. There’s no flatulence on this one. There are no lyrics as insane as ‘shit might pretzel Christ’s intestines.’ Hell, on songs like “Herrod 2014”, there’s even a chorus. And though you might not be wailing ‘she’s hidden her babies away’ in the shower; it’s a resonant lyric, indicative of a more conventional structure which will provide a handhold for those scared away by the reckless assembly of his last few releases. As such, for all the furore surrounding the latter-day music of Scott Walker, it could be said that some exaggerate the extent of his virtuosity. Yes the music here is a far cry from almost all else and that’s glorious, but it is still just music; Scott’s lyrical and vocal style are not dissimilar from that of Swans’ Michael Gira, and closer to home Soused sounds a fair bit like Bisch Bosch Part Two, albeit a better and more refined selection of music than that earlier release. That being said, with his beauteous voice and blackened heart Scott Walker very much remains alone in his field. It would be most horrific if all music were like these 50 minutes; but it’s wonderfully endearing to have pits like this to hurl yourself into when the mood takes you.

9/10

Liam Inscoe-Jones

Liam is listening to: ‘Blue Suede’ – Vince Staples

Categories
AlbumsMusic

Leave a Reply