Scott Walker’s been at it for over 50 years, producing his more challenging work for the best part of half of that. He scored his first chart-topper in 1965, when The Walker Brothers’ Make It Easy on Yourself held off competition from Sonny & Cher, Ken Dodd and The Rolling Stones.
But these days, Walker is more likely to be playing darts and studying dictators than discussing a revivalist 60s package tour.
Impressionistic in both sound and “lyric”, Bish Bosch, Walker’s 14th studio album, offers collage and an abstract form of rhythm – his own rhythm. It’s propulsive, carrying an urge, the need to examine the debris of mostly violent actions.
It starts with pummelling drums, fiery guitar licks and “plucking feathers from a swansong” in See You Don’t Bump His Head. Then, the almost suite-like Corps De Blah begins with electronic textures before a sampled dog bark and murky rock kicks in. Soon, the sounds of musique concrete, seagulls, screechy strings and gothy stomps come in and out to accessorise the next batch of prose.
Before long Bish Bosch resembles the sort of thing old Radiohead fans think Radiohead sound like today. Tar features knife sharpening as percussion, and the catchy SDSS1416+13B throws free jazz, thrash metal, sirens and what might be a staple gun into the mix.
The album closes with a xylophone plinking its way through Jingle Bells – in reference to the execution of Romanian politician Nicolae Ceaușescu in December 1989. Obviously.
Maybe Walker’s having a riot. Lines such as “Here’s to a lousy life”, “I want to forget you just the way you are”, and “I really hope your face clears up” suggests he’s more fun than he makes out. And what keeps you going is that voice; the voice that pulled you in all those years ago.
That this is, says the man himself, the third of a trilogy (after 1995’s Tilt and 2006’s The Drift) perhaps means that Walker’s next album will feature less of the meat-punching, and some more accessible material.
Right now, though, Bish Bosch needs to be played loud; and it’s more of an installation piece than a shuffle-friendly commute record. It might not encourage repeat plays, but to dismiss it as a racket is to do it, and its maker, a huge disservice.