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Monday, January 16, 2006

Climate Of Hunter by Scott Walker

The ghost in the machine...

Climate of Hunter
Scott Walker

By the time Scott Walker released Climate Of Hunter in 1984 he’d been long fixed in public consciousness as a pouting balladeer as firmly as a prehistoric insect trapped in amber.

Jaded by his celebrity status and MOR pigeon-holing, Walker spurned the fame resulting from The Walker Brothers and the increasingly eclectic (and erratic) solo records sired toward the end of the 60s and the 70s.

Like a typecast actor, he would quite never escape the gravitational pull of those early self-titled albums and their cultish appeal. Hardly a month goes by without some earnest singer keen to establish their retro-chic credentials by citing Scott 1 – 4 as a key influence in their development.

A full decade separates his previous album the country tinged "We Had It All" and "Climate of Hunter." Recorded in the space of a month, it’s a piece of angsty experimental modernity that in 1984 had few, if any, competitors.

Excluding the anachronistic reading of "Blanket Roll Blues", complete with an acoustic cameo from Mark Knopfler, it condenses a dizzying blur of lush orchestrations; free-form sax squalls; trumpets tape-looped into a hazy sheen above ruminating funk bass; 4/4 beats punctuating ethereal string-synth atmospherics.

Wilfully obscure, and one suspects intentionally “difficult”, there are times when the tortuous melodies seem to arise from the smoke made from arbitrary collisions of notes and chords, that is these melodic sequences are anything but obvious.

Through the ephemeral mist of it all, Walker’s lugubrious croon moves like a fleeting searchlight briefly illuminating the obtuse subject matter locked away inside these perversely angular songs.

Yet for all the experimental prickliness there’s an unfathomable grandeur to tracks such as "Rawhide" and "Three" which insinuates itself as sure as any pop-based hook. Though the ballad "Sleepwalkers Woman" treads familiar ground to the magical territory of "Boy Child" from Scott 4 its inclusion was too little too late for fans of the Scott of yore.

The vociferous rush of Seven is the closest thing to straight forward rock on the album, interspersed as it is, with guitar solos that seem to owe something to Stevie Vaughan Ray’s work on Bowie’s Let’s Dance.

Although the eight tracks on the album rarely stray beyond the four minute mark, there’s little else in the way of concession to popular taste. Inevitably it sank without a trace on release.

Determined to break with expectation and pursue his rarefied muse, Walker condemned himself to become a ghostly presence destined to occasionally haunt the cloisters of his own career.

Yet Climate Of Hunter and his 1995 album, Tilt, can be properly seen as artistic triumphs. It’s impossible to think of any other artist from the 60s that occupied the MOR as Walker once did who would wash up making music as genuinely ambitious and challenging as this.


Stuart said...

Thanks for reviewing this one - I got hold of the boxed set 'In Five Easy Pieces' a couple of years ago, which is an amazing introduction to Scott Walker's work spread across 5 CDs. Great stuff! Before hearing that I had been really into the Walker Brothers stuff and been totally bewildered by one hear of 'Tilt'. The man is a musical genius - and a great influence on many artists including David Sylvian himself! There was a rumour that Sylvian worked with Walker and there is material sitting on some shelf somewhere. Do you know anything about that?

Sid Smith said...

Hi there Stuart,
I don't really know anything about a Sylvian / Walker collaboration I'm afraid. It struck me when I was listening to it that Hunter would have been the kind of album Sylvian might have given his right arm to be able to make. Certainly I can hear echoes of Hunter in Gone To Earth which came out a couple of years after.

Stuart said...

Ok, so you've got me curious now. So I did a bit of searching, and found the following:

Apparently, Sylvian wrote the song 'Ride' with Scott Walker in mind. He offered it to Scott, who was in legal wrangles with his record label at the time. This was resolved and Scott Walker began work on another album, so the song was never recorded by him. Sylvian recorded it but it remained unreleased until it eventually appeared on the 'Everything & Nothing' album.

So not exactly a collaboration - as far as I know.

I think you're right about Sylvian's likely view of Walker. And 'Gone to Earth' - well, that is one of my favourite albums.

CBQ said...

Gone to Earth is also one of my favourites but I can't say I like Mr W very much. His voice is just TOO MOR for me - like a lower register Engelbert Humperdinck - although there's no denying his ultimate experimentation.

There's a good acoustic-guitar-and- vocal-only cover of "Farmer In The City" by Martin Tielli of Canadian band Rheostatics on his solo album "We Didn't Even Suspect That He Was The Poppy Salesman". I used to have the "Tilt" album and, for me, this was the best track.

The Rheostatics are DEFINITELY worthy of your attention even if they are totally unknown outside Canada...

Norman said...

You probably know this but the first four tracks of the Walker Brothers Nite Flites album from, I think, 1978, prefigure Climate of Hunter, with the same sound, many of the same musicians and same arrangements.

I love Sleepwalkers Woman; I think he lifted a bit of the melody from the preamble to Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific. Never mind, he did something wonderful with it.

Barrie Sillars said...

Scott4 for me is his very best. Truly an amazing voice and even more amazing on what he managed to achieve out of the spotlight of The Walker Brothers. I think he is signed to 4AD now!

Sid Smith said...

I do love Scott 4 as well but I love the weird tension that happens when we hear Scott singing in his instantly recognisable MOR-ish croon against the backdrop of some genuinely interesting arrangements and settings as on Climate and Hunter. Of course, there's also the matter of the obscure subject matter of his songs. I have NO idea what he's singing about but it doesn't really matter to me. His words merely add to the sense of ambiguity contained in much of the arrangements.


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