SCOTT WALKER - BISH BOSCH
Released: 3rd December 2012
As an interpreter of Jacques Brel songs, such as 'If You Go Away', 'Jackie', and this writer's favourite, Mathilde', Walker truly lived up to Cope's hyperbole and, for many listeners, his rich, baritone voice was, and remains, the gold standard for orchestral balladeers. Yet, in 1984, just as interest in Walker's more melodic tunes had been stimulated, he released Climate of Hunter, a challenging collection which hinted at his crooning past, but most definitely did not exploit any curiosity that may have been generated by Fire Escape in the Sky.
It would be 11 years before Tilt, Walker's next record, hit the shelves, marking the first in a trilogy of experimental, avant garde albums which sees its completion with the release of Bish Bosch. Coming out only six years after The Drift (the middle part of the trilogy), Bish Bosch emerges with seemingly undue haste for an artist who has tended to leave 10-year gaps between albums over the past 40 years or so.
In Walker's case, 'artist' is a very apt description. Bish Bosch, as the second half of its title might suggest, is best approached in the same way you might view a work of art. On first listen, it appears disjointed, jagged and almost unlistenable. Yet, like studying a painting or other work of art, one needs to look at it again and again to fully understand the meaning and, with repeated plays, the listener is drawn into its complex web, revealing layers that demonstrate the songwriting skills of a '60s survivor who can still produce thought-provoking material which is ultimately very rewarding.
At more than an hour, the listener needs to invest a good deal of time before reaping any long-lasting benefit, yet each track appears to have been hand-crafted by Walker with co-producer Peter Walsh, using a myriad of strange sounds, including the noise of swords being sharpened and barking dogs at various times in the recording. At certain points during the centrepiece track, 'SDSS 14+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)', the 21-minute epic which forms the centrepiece of the album, it is silence that creates the tension for the listener and draws one into the work.
The album closes with a track subtitled 'An Xmas Song' but, this being Walker, the sleigh bells which end the number are dark and slightly disturbing. One thing's for sure, you won't be hearing BBC Radio 2 playing this festive tune on Christmas Day this year or, indeed, in any future years.
Walker is quoted on the 4AD website as saying: "I've always thought since the late '70s, 'This is my last record'… I guess I just pull the trigger each time." With the 'big 7-0' looming for Walker in January, if these words prove to be prophetic, Bish Bosch will be an enduring legacy but, somehow, I don't think we've seen the last of him just yet.