on 17 January 2008
I'm so tired. Last night, I listened to The Drift for the first time, and as a result, I didn't get a wink of sleep all night. Nothing - NOTHING - can prepare you for the sheer terror that this album invokes. I usually try to listen to new albums in one go. I managed most of The Drift, and thought I was doing well, considering some of the waking nightmares I encountered along the way. But I failed. The penultimate track pushed me beyond the limits of fear. This is my story:
I love Scott Walker's older stuff, and to honest, I bought this album without reading any reviews beforehand, expecting something similar to his old work. Thankfully, before I ever actually listened to it, I read the reviews on Amazon, and I watched the 30 Century Man documentary, that showed all the pork-punching weirdness that went on in the recording of this album (it's true - the percussion on Clara is the sound of a man laying a side of pork on a studio table and punching it. I'm not making it up).
I can't even begin to imagine how I'd have reacted to The Drift if I hadn't been warned of it's sheer extemity. I'd probably have had a heart attack somewhere down the line. I unreservedly apologise to the other reviewers on this page, since I read their proclamations of The Drift's sheer horror and mocked - "how can music be so scary, they must be mad!". Oh, how wrong I was. After The Drift, I had to line up CD after CD of happy music to bring myself back from the brink of despair.
At this point in a review, it would be normal to compare The Drift to other albums, but there is seriously nothing like this in the whole world, and I hope there never will be again. One hour and nine minutes of utter terror, the kind of thing you could only ever have heard in your very worst nightmares.
I thought I was doing OK. Cossacks Are is a strangely wonderful song. Jesse is just unpleasant, nothing more; Clara and Cue are shocking, horrible, and sickening, yet strangely beautiful, as is Jolson And Jones (donkey noise not withstanding). Then it goes relatively calm for a couple of tracks - emphasis on relatively, as by normal standards, they're still pretty harrowing.
Then there's The Escape.
Or more specifically, there's THAT moment, four minutes and ten seconds into The Escape.
The moment when I was so scared that I threw my headphones across the room and sat there, heart racing, short of breath. The moment when you realise why the album has, other than a pretty unsettling sequencer driven bit just before, spent the last few minutes lulling you into a false sense of security. Now I know what other reviewers meant when they talk about "The Donald Duck Bit". I know how stupid this must seem to anyone who hasn't heard it, but it's true - it's just vile! I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. It's genuinely traumatising stuff. I really can feel my heart rate increasing just thinking about it.
The problem is I'm just fanning the flames. The reason I finally listened to The Drift after it sat on my desk for weeks on end, taunting me every day, daring me to play it, was that I'd read the reviews both here and elsewhere, and finally curiosity got the better of me. How can this CD evoke such extreme reactions? Surely these people are exaggerating? They're not! I can imagine future generations setting up support groups for people who have listened to this album. As I type this, I am looking at the black CD packaging, and I feel like I am looking into the very heart of evil. It sits on my desk like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like the music, the casing is the blackest black I've ever seen. I want it to go away, but I don't want to touch it in case I get sucked into the abyss. I took on The Drift, and The Drift won.
Maybe you, my dear reader, will read this and do the same thing I did. If you do, please don't do what I did, and listen to it alone, late at night, through headphones. I'm not normally affected by horror films or anything like that, but The Drift reduced me to a gibbering wreck.
Seriously, I don't care who you are, I can tell you one thing right now:
You are not ready for The Drift.
on 15 November 2006
To the reviewer below unsure as to whether to get this album: I recommend it, but be warned. It is scary, even more so than Tilt; if your Scariest Moment in Music up to now was the eerie shrieking at the heart of Face on Breast, as mine was, then prepare to have the breath knocked out of you - *twice* - by The Escape on this album. It's easily the most horrific song I can recall hearing, if not the scariest sound I've ever heard when - (spoiler) - he does that thing with his voice.
But I'm dawdling too much on the one track; the whole thing is immensely rewarding, if you're up to it, and I for one had the long-forgotten feeling, playing this for the first time, that I was actually hearing something new and different for a change. Anyone with a casual interest should hear Tilt first, imho, and progress from there. It's cold, gruelling, and cathartic; it's that man again. Enough said.
on 24 May 2007
(Note: I wrote this review a while ago and gave the album four stars. That was a mistake. It should be ten. The trouble is, I can't change the rating above. Anyway, buy this album.)
When I first heard this record, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that someone could get away with making rubbish like this. 'Songs' sung on one note, no melody, no structure. And scary. I can't talk about individual tracks - they're all the same, scary. My daughter begged me to switch it off when she heard it, she was terrified. Fortunately, however, I gave it time and effort. So far it's been about four or five months and when I come home from work the record I always want to listen to, despite the lack of tunes, is this one. I don't understand why.
Walker's voice is amazing, of course, and the 'sonic landscape' (as Eno might put it) is constantly interesting and full of the unexpected. You can't sing along to it though.
If you're prepared to put in the effort, you may eventually enjoy this album. But don't count on it.
on 16 May 2006
Contemporary critics of the German Jewish Poet, Paul Celan, accused him of veering towards an expression that mirrored an altogether private world. Indeed, Celan set out to refine a "Hermetic language" that only he could unlock and codify, re-translating the tragedies of losing his mother and neighbours in the region of Bukovina, as the engines of extermination gathered momentum.
Just as Celan presented us with a cryptographic geography of the horrors of European Fascism. Walker boldly takes up the challenge and presents his own " Hermetic" world of horrors, without resorting to moralising. Each song is like a deep focus lense of war journalism, of the kind that we don't watch on televison anymore. Our collective eyes de-sensitized to atrocity, while our ears are deaf to the grief of the wandering dead, desperate to relay their stories to the living.
Thank god we have artists that still have private worlds.
on 30 September 2007
A few months ago I read an article on "the maddest albums ever made", The Drift was included in this. Talk of donkeys being scared and punching pork was mentioned - "eh?" I thought. Then I saw the 30th Century Man documentary on Scott Walker and was particularly impressed by his passion for the music he made. (Up to that point I only knew him as being one of The Walker Brother's and for singing THAT hit) I wanted to check out his later music but was advised to try Tilt before The Drift. I loved Tilt, even if the music spooked me a bit. However, nothing could quite prepare me for The Drift.
Alone on a dark evening I listened to the album through headphones. I could feel my skin starting to crawl as the first few tracks weaved through my ears. Then all of a sudden on the track "Cue" Scott began to wail "Immunity won't feed on the bodies!" against the most frightening music I've ever heard. I threw the earphones off and had to press stop - it petrified me that much! I have a broad taste and have listened to all manner of supposed "scary music" but nothing even comes close to The Drift. The lyrics and imagery conjured up have to be heard to be believed, they are just horrific. This album gets top marks for illiciting such a primal fear in me and for being like nothing else I've heard. Buy it now but beware of what it may do to you upon listening...!
on 29 June 2006
This is another review which is going to one end of the scale or the other and I'm firmly in the 5 stars camp. Having got into Scott as a result of hearing he was an influence on other artists I like and having the easy way in suggested to me: Boy Child, Scott's 1-4, Sings Brel etc. I found Climate Of Hunter and Tilt exceedingly hard work.
The Drift is by comparison a complete contrast. It has only taken 4 or 5 listens for the beauty and simplicity of the music to start to introduce itself to me. I've barely had time to consider the words Scott is using. At the moment his voice is merely another instrument. A part of a whole.
The album reminds me greatly of the production job Scott did on Pulp's We Love Life album. There are definite echoes of I Love My Life and Wickerman in the guitar sounds and thunderous effects on Jesse and Psoriatic respectively. Buzzers somehow manages to effortlessly swing from a mournful dirge to tantalizing hints of the swooning string arrangements which characterised Scott's work with Wally Stott and Peter Knight.
I don't listen to this album for enjoyment, I don't expect my friends to like it, and I'm not even sure what exactly I like about it. All I know is that in The Drift Scott has created an atmospheric piece, which should be seen as one work of art and not 10 tracks. Some of the atonal string work on CUE reminds me of the Fire Suite on Brian Wilson's SMiLE. This can be no bad thing.
Far from losing his muse Scott has found it, grabbed it, refined it and put it out there for the rest of us to marvel at.
This is the work of a genius and is exceedingly beautiful.
I thought a straightforward review based on several listenings might be useful to others wondering whether to buy "The Drift". However I don't claim to have fully taken it all in yet - it is such a lengthy, complex record that it will take a while.
It's easier to convey "The Drift" to you if you've heard "Tilt" (if you haven't, read on anyway). It took me a few years to like "Tilt" and I did that by not attempting to understand it but by just enjoying the music, the voice, and the beauty and/or darkness conjured up by the juxtaposition of sounds.
Having heard "The Drift" a few times now, I realise that "Tilt" has tunes. There is nothing really comparable on "The Drift", no Farmer In The City for instance. The Cockfighter is perhaps closest.
"The Drift" consists of 68 minutes of music. Most of the tracks are what we might call collages of sound, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud and brash. The lyrics generally form a collection of statements or bursts of wording, from which you're perhaps left to construct your own meaning or message. There are few melodies in the common sense of the word. Scott's voice is still recognisable as the Scott of the past, just older and conveying less warmth than it once did. Not that there is much need for warmth, given the subject matter of some of these songs - 9/11; the hanging of Claretta Petacci alongside Mussolini; Milosevic. What the rest are about I don't yet know and perhaps never will. Do we need to know?
It possibly all sounds rather awful so far. In fact it's not, it's really very good indeed. Any who liked "Tilt" will enjoy the experience and find plenty to challenge them. Anyone who doesn't want their music to be easy will similarly feel at home here. And whilst the album is obviously carefully constructed, it doesn't seem glossily overproduced - you can tell this is just as he wanted it to sound, every note well intentioned. If you want depth to your music, here it is.
This record won't set the charts alight and the tracks won't be played much on the radio, if at all. You won't be putting this on as gentle background music at your dinner party (though it is great driving music).
If you are new to Scott Walker, don't start here unless you are very brave and understand what has come before. Better to begin with one of the collections (Boy Child is a good bet) or, better still, pick up Scotts 1 to 4. If you're just someone who wants to escape the mass consumerism and bland commercialism of a lot of today's releases, give "The Drift" a go. Turn it up loud, sit back, open your mind and enjoy.
on 31 October 2006
The king of brooding avant-rock returns over a decade after 1995's immensely rewarding aural challenge, Tilt. So, has he mellowed, perhaps come full circle, The Drift a collection of pop tunes with guest appearances from the other Walker siblings? You can probably guess the answer.
The Drift is a punishing listen, painfully intense and more than a little bonkers. The lyrics remain cryptic as ever, Walker on Jesse addressing 9/11 via Elvis Presley's stillborn twin, elsewhere pondering the woman who insisted on dying with Mussolini and punching a donkey on the streets of Galway. Away from impenetrable couplets and Donald Duck impressions, historical politics dominate on tracks such as Clara and Escape, a glint of humanity on a truly alien record.
The music retains a humming, industrial clatter throughout, the only track resembling a `normal' rock song tellingly being the opener, Cossacks Are. Even this, its queasy drumbeat like a basketball being bounced in a puddle, is hugely unnerving. The 9 tracks that follow are some of the most bizarre and scary you will hear all year, because frankly, no-one makes records like Scott Walker.
On that note, a warning: do not listen to this if you have a heart condition. Walker peppers tracks with immediate, terrifying discordant strings, his eerie baritone bellowing overhead. Even considering the sparse guitar licks and meat-punching (you read it right) that accompany his lyrics, Walker's voice may prove to many to be the most uneasy part of the album. Everything is sung in his now trademark mini-operatic waver. This combined with his vivid imagery and defiant non-music might sound like some unholy chaos, and to some degree it is, but it remains utterly unique throughout.
What compels Scott Walker to make such recordings is a mystery to me, and to be truthful, I don't want to know the answer. Whatever the reason, the result is an opaque, mind-blowing album, and even if he takes ten years to make the next one, chances are this'll still be lurking around your CD player come 2016.
on 11 May 2006
"Long awaited" have become bywords to describe a new album by Scott Walker. They don't come along very often, but when they do, you can be guaranteed you'll hear music and lyrics unlike anything else you've ever heard before and be astounded by the results. The Drift is precisely this, an album of brilliance that only a unique musical talent like Walker could produce.
The album explores territory similar to that of Tilt, topics such as death, torture, fascism, and a new one....reality television! This album sounds more accessible than its bleak predecessor, musically it's brighter and varied, and other voices appear, a female Nico-esque voice appears as the protagonist on the brilliant "Clara", an epic piece about the last moments of Mussolini's mistress, as harrowing a piece as Scott has ever written, and one of the most amazing pieces of music I have ever heard. An industrial ballad, as spine tingling as his classic "Farmer In The City" from Tilt, a song that is split into several sections as Scott narrates the public hanging and flogging of Mussolini from the mistress' point of view. The centrepiece of the album, and one where Scott combines all his previous obsessions into one magnificent industrial symphony. This is the best of European cinema put to music.
The other pivotal track is "Jesse", the name of Elvis' stillborn twin brother, someone in whom Elvis confided when the going got tough, and a metaphor which is used to describe the horror of the 9/11 attacks. The nightmare of the American dream writ large on a shining New York sky. Scott sings about "Six feet of foetus, flung at sparrows in the sky", an image synonomous with the bodies flung from the Twin Towers, and an image of the brother of America's greatest icon who will haunt him throughout his life. "I'm the only one left alive" Scott chants at the end of the song, a lucky survivor of the attacks or the loneliness of an American icon who curses his good fortune? As oblique and as abstract as ever, surely this will go down as one of the great songs from the Alternative American Songbook. A completely mesmerising song which confirms Scott Walker as one of the greatest alt. songwriters alive.
The rest of the album perhaps doesn't reach the heights of these two classics, but there's much to admire about it. The raucous opener, "Cossacks Are" which reminds us of the time when Scott actually rocked (remember The Plague?) He did say if he could do it all again he would like to be in Radiohead, and this is a nod to them, but he makes the song his own, and is probably his most upbeat track in years. And there's the white noise drama of "Jolson and Jones", which takes several musical twists and turns, and which references "Sonny Boy" and an obscure American song by Jack Jones dad! And it has a lyric to end all lyrics, "I'll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway!", complete with the sound of horses hooves!
Musically, it's more brighter and polished than Tilt, but that still doesn't make it more commercial since it ploughs the same terrain. Lyrically it's oblique and abstract, and provides an equally challenging listen. It also takes a few listens before the hidden melodies reveal themselves, but I would say it's more instant than Tilt. Whether it's as good, only time will tell, but for now it's the best album in the world...ever, and one thing's for sure, there's only one Scott Walker.
on 28 August 2007
Sometimes there's a book, a painting, a film or a piece of music that just keeps nudging you, long after you've played it, decided you feel attracted, baffled, dumbfounded, slightly foxed, interested but uncommitted, and replaced it on the shelf. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive had me like that. I couldn't have told you what exactly happened, or to whom, or whether, ummm, the person I thought it happened to just now was the same person it happened to in this scene. Which is normally a minus point... but no: sure enough, for months individual scenes, words, colours, feelings just kept nagging at me, coming back to me in quiet moments, until I went back to it again. and again. And again. That's how it is with The Drift. You won't love it first time - you'll be too concerned with trying to latch onto bits of recognisable pop. The riff of Cossacks Are; the musical quote from Jesse,'Jailhouse Rock' slowed down to an acoustic Black Sabbath drone. And in between, well, there are no neat chunks of answers, no more auto-pilot pat 12-bars-and-out passages. Just clues. Just impressions. Just images. Just sounds. And at first, that's a little bit intimidating, a little bit like being lost, and you just want to find out where you are (latch onto those landmarks) and get home by the shortest route. But the beauty, the addictive, indescribable beauty, of The Drift, is that it just leaves you to explore this place. And you get to know it, and feel like you live there. You never get bored because you really, genuinely, never get to latch onto a piece of something regular or conventional that you know will last until the solo etc etc. Get a personal stereo and put this on. Live here. It's terrifying at times, sure, but it's exciting. Neever mind all the worthy adjectves (brave, experimental, bleak etc)... this is a ride and a half, the full hairs-standing-on-end bit. You won't want to go back.