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Definitive Albums: Scott Walker 'The Drift' (2006)

And the Darkness

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Scott Walker 'The Drift'

Scott Walker 'The Drift'


The Haunted Mind

"I've had very bad dreams all my life," Scott Walker calmly says, at the center of the documentary 30 Century Man, "so everything is big. It's way out of proportion."

The Drift is Walker's nightmares set to music: all squalling, screaming, atonal strings and tortured, half-sobbing croons. Fists punch a side of beef, sinister sounds bang on walls, children scream, donkeys bray, a film projector flickers in an empty, dusty cinema. Crowds of irate Italians beat the corpse of Benito Mussolini with a stick. Elvis Presley presages the September 11 terrorist attacks in a fever dream, then weeps on the shoulder of his stillborn twin brother. Donald Duck quacks like a torture victim. Walker's words —sung in a tremorous warble overloaded with theatrical emotion— are impressionist poems filled with images of crucifixion, execution, bloodlust, and, um, "pee pee-soaked trousers."

And it's big. Huge. Towering, colossal, cavernous; one of those distorted dream landscapes, where buildings loom ridiculously-large and environments are near-monolithic. Walker plays with sound like a painter, deploying blocks of sounds in swipes on canvas. The obvious comparison, then, is to an artist like Francis Bacon, who also took his art into places of terrifying nightmare.

But there's as much of a 'radio play' sense to The Drift: Walker as narrator, orchestral parts evoking qualities of the characters, sound effects conveying the action. Walker once called himself "the Orson Welles of the record industry," regarding his status as legendarily 'difficult' figure. But, here the comparison seems more artistic: The Drift a drama using sounds to trigger images —terrifying, horrific, nightmarish— within the imaginations of listeners.

Oh, Humanity

The Drift marked Walker's first album since 1995's Tilt, and only his second since 1984's Climate of Hunter. When the LP was released, its author was 63. Yet, the record shows a daring usually associated with youth; a sense of nihilism, that the world is ending, that usually comes as product of post-adolescent existentialism.

For most his age, with more to look back on in life than look forward to, nostalgia becomes a familiar condition. But The Drift is an album untouched by nostalgia, untroubled by the softening of spirit, intent, or angst. It never looks back, only forward: embracing that feeling of a death ever-nearing.

Conversant in genocide, terrorism, and barbarism, Walker's haunted dreamscape is, indeed, death-obsessed. In all its atonalism, friction, falsetto, and fearlessness, The Drift isn't a work for the faint-hearted. There's none of the romance and splendor of Scott 4. Nor, really, anything approximating a good old-fashioned tune. But it's a work deep in meaning and wide-open for interpretation; a musical raw-nerve whose unflattering radicalism holds up a mirror to a brutal, depraved species.

Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: May 8, 2006

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