Scott Walker - The Childhood Of A Leader

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2016-08-19
To my mind, in the last 20 years, Scott Walker's albums have been more thought-provoking, challenging and interesting than anyone else's. And this is after he threw away every single thing that had made him a cult idol on the Scott 1, 2, 3 and 4 albums. Most recently, as he has approached and entered his 70s, his productivity has increased without any decline in quality. Bish Bosch was a career high. He then put out the exceptional Soused with Sunn O))). So, how do you follow an album made with the world's greatest purveyors of Avant-Garde Doom Metal? You, as one of the most celebrated singers of the pop era, release an entirely instrumental, orchestral soundtrack album to Brady Corbet's film, The Childhood Of A Leader.
 
Although this is an album on which he doesn't sing or play (46 string players and 16 brass play his compositions), fans of Walker's recent albums will recognise his style (and that of long-term collaborators Peter Walsh and Mark Warman) in these pieces. The love of difficult, discordant chords is here; as well as aggressive percussion, stabbing strings and evil-sounding brass. There is also unsettling electronic noise and, that old Scott Walker favourite, percussive sound effects (mainly on Printing Press). However, being a soundtrack it's not just a Scott Walker album with his voice taken off. The album has to present and contribute to the atmosphere of the film so you also get a lot of tense, Bernard Herrmann-like string lines which work well in combination with Walker, Walsh and Warman's usual cacophony of sounds. There are also several short, scene-setting pieces covering all manner of atmospheres from the eerie Up The Stairs, through the evil-sounding Third Tantrum to the surprisingly pretty Run.
 
I have little frame of reference for describing any of Scott Walker's albums from Tilt onwards. I can describe it only as 'Scott Walker music' and fans of this music will recognise The Childhood Of A Leader as part of this continuum. But it also brings something new because, if the albums from Tilt onwards threw away all the well-loved sounds and atmospheres of the classic Scott 1 to Scott 4 albums, The Childhood Of A Leader has now also thrown away a lot of Walker himself. His lyrics and voice are entirely absent. But it is still unmistakably a Scott Walker album. It also shows that there is absolutely no way of telling what he'll do next.