I’ve come to love the Walker Brother’s mid-60’s orchestral pomp-pop and especially Scott Walker’s quartet of solo albums of the late 60’s. Those records for the most part didn’t register in the US. The “Brothers”, despite being Americans, found massive success in the UK, but though they had perfect mod London haircuts and clothing, their music sounded nothing like the Stones, Kinks or Beatles. Led by Scott Engel’s hugely theatrical baritone, the Walkers’ records were lush and melodic, but “rocked” in no sense of the term. They had the benefit of Philips Records’ largesse that put them in top studios with the finest arrangers and musicians of the day. The LPs still sound massive in 2009.
Scott’s first 3 LPs all charted high in the UK but his sound grew more esoteric and less like the work of a teen idol, and quite possibly began to alienate his fan base. In a pivotal moment, his fourth and best album didn’t chart at all. Without the cushion of large sales, Walker felt pressured into putting out ill-considered, more “audience friendly” pop that he ultimately felt humiliated by. Steven Kijak’s film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man shows how Walker has essentially been on a 40 year act of penance for that time, creating music over the last two decades that is not audience friendly in the least. While the film makes a case for his recent work, it’s honest enough to include some dissenting opinions (Lulu, who adored Scott and toured with the Brothers in the 60’s is diplomatically silent but looks horrified when some of it plays, Alison Goldfrapp is of two minds, and Marc Almond comes right out and says it: “I hated Tilt.”). However one feels about it, the arc of Scott Walker’s journey is fairly unique in pop music documentaries: he’s not a burnout case at all, but completely lucid and candid about his story, and as a story that now encompasses about 50 years of music it’s truly compelling.