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Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Drift by Scott Walker

Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know...

There can’t be many releases this year, or any other year for that matter, whose songs take as their inspiration (at least in part) Elvis Presley’s stillborn brother, Al Jolson, donkey abuse, Milosevic, Mussolini, the Twin Towers and the Kaballah.

Though he’s often described as being ‘experimental’ or ‘complex’, The Drift is an anarchic full-on slap in the face kind of album.Simply put, The Drift makes his last album, Tilt, look about as avant-garde as a Partridge Family record.

The bone-shaking opener, “Cossacks Are” lets you know immediately that this isn’t going to be an easy ride even though it’s arguably the most accessible track on offer.

From here we enter the twilight world of “Clara”, ostensibly addressing Walker’s concerns about the rise of Fascism today by examining its ignoble past, the ghost of Mussolini’s mistress (the Clara of the title) makes a brief appearance to what sounds like a punch-bag being put through its paces.

If that sounds a little weird well, that’s because it is.

The album is packed with many disturbing juxtaposition. “Psoriatic” throws the sound of piping being clouted, slowed-down wood-saws, Dwayne Eddy From Hell style guitar, ball-churning thrums and sporadic bursts of 4/4 drumming. Oh and let’s not forget the demonic Donald Duck impersonation on “The Escape.” No kidding.

Don’t think that this is a collection of random noises thrown together for mere effect. Carefully constructed, painstakingly orchestrated, there’s a forensic attention to detail that borders on the fanatical.

In this respect The Drift reminds one of a dystopic version of Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden with its meticulous ear for contrasting dynamics.

It can be an intimidating blur of unfathomable references which bizarrely begin to form cryptic connections after prolonged exposure, an aural conspiracy theory which produces a shiver as you slowly realise that everything is spookily connected.

Even allowing for the fact that my musical tastes often wander into the obscure and non-traditional, it’s hard to remember when I last heard music as dangerously ‘out there’ or as perplexing as this.

Seeping in and out of it all, Walker’s singing – a ghost-echo of his pop past – materialises, rattling chains and cages without compromise or care; stalking through a perplexed clutter of erratic rhythms, serrated riffs and the eerie fog of Twin Peaks style twang-bar paranoia.

Only the last track, “A Lover Loves”, offers a sparse antidote to the harsh density of this dissonant, dissident manifesto. Here we have Scott Walker singing a song with an acoustic guitar. Surely nothing could go astray here? Well I wouldn't hold your breath. As elsewhere with this record, nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems.

Seven years in the making, The Drift is more an epic documentary of a turbulent exorcism than an album of songs. Both frightening and magnificent, I notice in iTunes it lists the genre as ‘unclassifiable.’ They got that right.


Richard Gibson said...

So you have actually heard the album then Sid?

Richard Gibson said...

BTW, cover looks great. Totally in line with the 4AD Vaughn Oliver house style. I like it a lot.

Sid Smith said...

Hi Richard
I've listening to the review copy they sent me for nearly a fortnight. It has a grim fascination that is very hard to pull away from. Agree with you about the artwork. Vaughan Oliver has such a distinctive look and feel which 100% fits the album:murky and mysterious.

Richard Gibson said...


Sorry been away from the blogosphere for a short while. I'm jealous you've heard it already. I have to wait until Monday, even then I can't actually get a copy until the weekend.

Did you happen to see the Time Out review, gave it (I think) either 1 star or 5, depending on your point of view.

Blog on,


Laurence said...

Not an easy listen , for sure. But if Eno/ Henry Cow/ National Health are in your top ten listens, this is just a hop, skip and jump away.
I can't say I 'enjoyed' this. His singing style still gets me a bit. But it's VERY cool and intriguing. I know he likes to think of this as 'One whole work'..but I'm still in the 'I can only take in one track at a time' phase. But I'm also still motivated to keep listening. There always seems to be more to 'get'.


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