Review by: Jonathan Birch
Album assigned by: Franco Micale
An electrifying descent into the hellish vision of a deranged mind, or so the theme of the music leads me to believe. In 1995, experimental artist Scott Walker (formerly of the pop group The Walker Brothers) released this studio album, his first since the early 80s. Like a cross between King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails, the record seems to fit perfectly into the grungy nihilism of the mid 90s. Much of the imagery in the album brings to mind unutterable, nightmarish pictures; such as “feathers on the sides of… fingers” or “Lemon Bloody Cola.” The music style mainly consists of industrial, post-punkish art rock, often mixed with jazz-folk elements and Gregorian church music, and while the technical prowess of the instrumentation is proficient enough, Walker’s singing is unconventional. Much of his lyrics remain unintelligible until reading them, and the atmosphere is harsh and uncompromising. His voice resembles that of a psychotic man living inside an attic, believing himself to be an opera singer and warbling along to the music in his head.
It is not entirely unpleasant however. The opening, “Farmer in the City,” is a quaint, almost beautiful piece of chamber orchestra, and the most accessible track on here. While the lyrics are still bizarrely avant-garde (the implications of “can’t go buy a man with brain-grass” will continue to haunt me for many nights to come), the inflection in Walker’s voice and the emotional backing of the strings creates an almost transcendent moment in this dark world he has created. But it doesn’t prepare you for the entropy that arrives later.
Track two, “The Cockfighter” opens with some more tonal dissonance and the jazzy beat of drums, before exploding into the sound of someone having loaded a washing machine with various pots and pans, and setting the dial to “heavy spin.” The atmosphere as warm and inviting as finding an unborn chicken in your breakfast egg. Walker sings on as though he’s a church minister leading everyone in the pews to perform a satanic mass. While the words remain garbled and inaudible, it is often not what he sings, but the way he sings it, and the deeper meaning he assigns.
Much of the lyrical themes seem to deal with body-horror, like an aural interpretation of a Cronenberg movie. Like the artwork, it is a surreal kaleidoscope of the inner-recesses of a rotting psyche. All the more amazing considering Walker’s background in bright, sunny 60s chamber pop. Certainly, I can see the influence his music has had on major artists like David Bowie or Bjork. It’s easier to treat the entire album as a single song. Attempting to dissect it individually will only make one realize that it’s as impenetrable as its artwork suggests.