Scott Walker, The Drift

Listening to The Drift will cause clouds to appear out of an azure blue sky, shadows to draw long and dusk fall, even at midday. Bleak in the extreme, The Drift is almost unbearable. It took this listener weeks to reach its end: each tentative listen resulted in retreat, rally and further retreat.

The bare facts of Walker’s life, told and retold so often, wear thin for the reader, perhaps also for the artist. Suffice to say that The Drift is Scott Walker’s first songform release in more than a decade. Its predecessor, Tilt, was an astonishing and unparalleled work which marked anyone susceptible to its power.

The Drift is Tilt’s dark-eyed, perhaps blinded, sister. Its relationship with its sibling is at best uneasy. Where Tilt was a mixture of light and dark, the new work presents a succession of oblique psychodramas. Clara focuses upon Benito Mussolini’s mistress who chose to die with her lover, her corpse strung up and abused by an angry mob:

“This is not
a cornhusk
doll

dipped in
blood
in the
moonlight

(…)

This is us
our eyesides
snagged

dipped in
mob
in the
daylight

The Drift’s ten songs, ranging in length from three to twelve minutes, are a set of musical and lyrical variations upon a handful of knotted themes: the physical experience of pain, the revelation of humanity in even the most reviled, the abstraction of the everyday in moments of extremity. Madness and desperation seep at the songs’ edges (when it doesn’t flood through them like a riptide). There are slaps and thuds, the braying of a donkey, looming lower frequencies, the scatter of grit, sudden tirades of sound, the tyranny of strings. And always that hushed, awfully intimate voice, subject to sudden irruptions, tics and cries… Walker elucidates a litany of abstract and very real horrors with a numbing monotony, his range pared down to that all too recognisable quavering, those notes that reach toward something higher, driven there by darkness, desperation and horror. With this work, perhaps his swan song, Scott Walker takes his place alongside his beloved Brel and also with Beckett and Hugo Ball.


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