The Radical Reinvention of the Increasingly Reclusive Scott Walker
In 1981, Julian Cope of the English post-punk band Teardrop Explodes released a compilation, Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker, which re-introduced Engel as a serious avant-garde performer; its plain grey cover removing the element of "'60s middle-of-the-road cheese" that clung to Walker's work.
Six years after the last Walker Brothers album, Engel finally returned with the enigmatic, unexpected Climate of Hunter. A worthy, 15-years-later successor to Scott 4, it ushered in the new era of Scott Walker the avant-gardist. The album is defined by its incongruity: though plumbing lyrical terrain of dark depression, forging into minimal electronic ambiance, and populated by formless songs that are rarely given names, Climate of Hunter sounds slickly 1980s, and features bizarre guest spots from Mark Isham, Mark Knopfler, and Billy Ocean(!).
"All the time, in the six years, I was rather working towards what I call a 'silence,' where this could come to me, rather than me force it," Engel said, in a radio interview to promote the record's release. The opening line of the album found Engel crooning "This is how you disappear," and, soon thereafter, he did.
It would be 11 years before the release of his next album, Tilt. In that time, recordings with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were abandoned after Engel grew dissatisfied with the collaboration. Virgin, his record label, axed him from his record deal. By the time he arose with Tilt, Scott Walker was more myth than man, and the music did little to dissuade that notion. Working with massive, shifting 'blocks' of often atonal sound, the record works with extremes of emotion and tonality; Walker pushing his baritone into an eerie moan, like a ghost lost in the darkness.
"I try to avoid cliché. I want to make it sound like nothing I have ever heard before," Engel said, to The Guardian. "All that guitar-based rock stuff, I just feel like I've heard it before so many times... It's just the same narrow ground being worked over."
After recording a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" for Nick Cave's soundtrack to the film To Have and to Hold, Engel undertakes a lengthy collaboration with renegade French filmmaker Léos Carax on the punishing, metallic soundtrack to his bizarre film, Pola X.
Engel writes songs for chanteuse Ute Lemper, sings a song on a James Bond soundtrack (The World is Not Enough), and in 2001 produces We Love Life, the final album for Pulp, an English band whose Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley have long worshipped Walker. In 2003 the first major retrospective of Walker's career, the five disc box-set Five Easy Pieces, is released.
The Drift and a New Scott Walker Era
After a 1995 article in Uncut promised that "Walker’s next album will be made not in 2006, but next year," Engel's follow-up to Tilt didn't arrive, amusingly enough, until 2006. The Drift, the most extreme, intense, and barren Scott Walker album yet, was issued to near critical acclaim. The album found Engel working in increasingly bizarre ways: "Clara" finds percussionist Alasdair Malloy punching on a side of pork to summon the sound of angry citizens clubbing the strung-up corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress in a Milan piazza. Another song, "Cue," apparently took Walker six years to complete.
With the album released, a Dutch journalist is sacked after making up an interview with the reclusive Walker. A compilation called The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore: The Best of The Best of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers is released coincidentally with The Drift, and ends up charting higher than Walker's new album itself.
"I make records for myself, because I'm interested in seeing where they're going to go,” Walker tells Magnet, at the time. "I think all artists do that, whether they're trying to alleviate some kind of pain or whatever."
Walker's career is explored in detail in the documentary film, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. Produced by David Bowie, it features footage from the recording sessions for The Drift, as well as interviews with those who Engel has influenced, including Radiohead, Pulp, Sting, Goldfrapp, and Johnny Marr of The Smiths. It's issued on DVD in 2009, 40 years after Scott 3 and Scott 4 were released.