Scott Walker came to prominence in the mid 1960s with his “family” act, The Walker Brothers. With chiseled good looks and armed with a handful of superbly performed songs, it’s not surprising they became a pop sensation. Yet for Scott Engel, this fame wasn’t satisfying. Sensing that his career might not be a fleeting one, when the group disbanded, he set out on an ambitious musical career, releasing a string of four challenging albums with the title of Scott.
Walker found inspiration in the satirical and brilliant Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, It’s not hard to understand why; even if one doesn’t speak French, one cannot deny the utterly catchy, over-the-top sound of his melodies and his amusingly overwrought singing, such as on the fantastic “Le Chanson De Jacky” and “Les Filles Et Les Chiens.” Fortuitously, Walker’s management had been given the opportunity to explore a handful of translated versions through a publishing house. Walker, learning of Mort Shuman’s superb translation work, jumped at the chance, covering three Brel songs on his first three Scott albums.
Scott Walker Meets Jacques Brel contains all of Walker’s Brel recordings, as well as Brel’s original versions. Walker’s song choices were inspired, and worked perfectly for his vocal range and arrangement style. You can hear the excited anticipation for the return of his destructive lover in “Mathilde.” You can feel Walker’s anxiousness in “Next,” a song about gonorrhea and forced sex with prostitutes in the name of military service. “Jackie” offers a libertine pop star’s nostalgia for past conquests and the longing for the hedonistic good old days.
Brel’s specialty is darkness, but not everything here is twisted darkness. “The Dogs And The Girls” humorously compares the benefits of man’s best friend versus the frustrating vexations of women. “My Death,” in spite of its grim title, is actually a very beautiful, oblique love song. “Sons Of” is a beautiful ballad about having sons whilst subtly making an anti-war statement about how sons are not inherently equal, yet war makes all sons equal. It’s a powerful statement, yet it’s a drop-dead gorgeous song number made perfectly heavenly by Walker’s angelic voice.
Walker created a legacy with his first four solo albums, and Brel’s influence is undeniable. Nor can one deny the legacy Walker’s Brel work had on other musicians, whether with his contemporary David Bowie, or with future generations such as Marc Almond, Jarvis Cocker, and Stephin Merritt. Scott Walker Meets Jacques Brel might not offer anything new for the devoted, it’s nice to have the original Brel versions compiled together with Walker’s fantastic covers. If you’re new to Walker, it’s a great introduction to one of the finest vocalists of the 20th Century covering one of the finest songwriters of the 20th Century.
Purchase Scott Walker Meets Jacques Brel: Ace Records / Amazon