The Return of Scott Walker - The Drift
By Rob O'Driscoll
Drifting…Tilting…but always coming back, always coming back to…you. To us. To US.
Back to his roots. Post- 9/11 and Scott Walker’s first full musical release since ‘Tilt’ in 1995 sees him looking back at America, the America, his America of 40 years ago and not recognizing her any more; America of myth, Epic and forbidding, unrecognizable through the prism of his life since three pretend brothers, with nothing in common but a desire to escape, fled The Draft. The cold wind blowing.
Back to back. Slowly moves his Art. ‘The Drift’. Not controlled but impossible to stop, deny. Controlled to the point of madness, of long nights and longer days spent struggling.
The lure of over here. But not here. The lure was The Continent. Brel. Sartre. Camus. Bergman. Jean-Paul Sinatra. Across the water. The Drift.
Backed up. What does he see, Narcissus, in the water? He sees himself. The horror. Back. Again. For more of the same. But different now. Fractured. Broken. A tear has burst the surface. An existentialist tear. All those tortured lives.
Continental drift. But to where..?
Back away. From that horror. How have things drifted in those years? Where is the world, the Europe, the US, of that time? The time of Belmondo, la dolce vita of intellectual pavements of artists painting, through cigarette smoke and coffee swirls, every ravaged line on the faces of the dispossessed. And being unable to look away but able to turn away, safe in the knowledge.
Back again. A place of horror of Srebrnica of Kosovo of Grozny of Baghdad of every dead-in-a-ditch body of every Babi Yar and every war and Ho Chi Min and every war is happening now for ever.
It is the sound of a haunted man. And all his windows are broken.
Great walls of sound build and collapse, assault the senses of the listener. These are pronouncements, not songs, condemnations. Cries in the dark.
Lavish strings vanish, invaded by orchestrated attrition that chains the ear, hammers them back. No one is allowed to escape. No one ever is. No witnesses.
To a dissonant, repetitive guitar line the work begins with Cossacks Are. Scott in thrall to the past, his past – the singular image:
Cossacks are/charging in/Charging into/fields of/white roses
Now it real people who surround the image, not the too-easy cast of boho sailors and ladies of ill-repute, transvestites and lovers; and beauty is no consolation amid ‘medieval savagery’. Always drifting back. Be they Claretta Petacci, Mussolini’s lover, or Jesse Pressley, Elvis’s still-born twin and metaphor for loss in life and the now empty New York sky-line, none are safe.
The sound of raw meat being hit during Clara tells of anger, blame, revulsion, horror, eroticism. Art grinding out truth. Real stories falling. History is moving…
Back track. Over and over. Regurgitation. Something begun almost 30 years ago is coming to fruition. The final desperate sounds of those brothers. Where is time, the drift, leading us all? Jesse also was 30 years ago, an ending. What began then ends now. The final word, sound, closure. He speaks of recording much more quickly a new album which could be toured.
What will come next? Surely the drift is downwards? Can it be time, then, to celebrate surviving so long? Celebrate the thaw? Which is only the
grossnes of spring/..(which)…rose a tumour balloon
Shades of Eliot. Shades of everyone. Shades everywhere, of the dead. Passing over London Bridge. Like Scott. Whoever’d thought..?
Back to square one.
The same old nightmare fears.
Back water. Where is ‘The Drift’ taking us? Are the answers in Cue (Flugelman)? So full of repulsion at the human form, or what is left. Fluid and flesh laid bare. A Continent become transparent by its own misdeeds. A body – sinew, ichor, organs- held open for mass consumption; its audience is waiting. Almost a sound track for this year’s Guantanamo-baiting Euro-horror ‘Hostel’.
Buzzers is the drift of votes that landslide the torturers and war-mongers: Milosevic, Bush, Blair, Hussein. A popularity no one would ever admit. Just who does vote for them? Who does Polish the fork as the faces of the grass go lengthening ?
Psoriatic is a prayer, crooned to ward off this infectious madness that replicates itself year-on-year, like some cheap media invented health-scare, to a wounded anthrax jesus powerful only in its ability to sell crude pot-boiled thrillers.
In The Escape Scott ponders just that, the possibility of escape. Under a terrifying soundscape he seems to lose all hope:
You and me/against the/world/World about/to end
But finds hilarious juxtapositions by dropping ‘I wish I was in Dixie’ into the lyrics and a mad Donald Duck voice that screeches in the background, so that the target, those responsible, is clear. Has hope drifted in?
Final track A Lover Loves employs (whisper it) acoustic guitar and what could almost be a melody. This is paean for that past – corneas misted. But there is no way back:
This is/a waltz/for a/dodo…a samba/for Bambi
No more Disney. No more Donald.
No more. It’s not just America.
Back. Scott needs to be back to be able to say these things. Who is saying them now?
Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen. What has happened to the next generation?
A record, an old-fashioned and romantic term now, in its truest sense of the world and how one man might meet it head-on. Though it will not father any hits or snag your brain with jaunty tunes it is a work that demands to be listened to in its fragmented, astonishing power and anti-beauty.