1984: Scott Walker - Climate of Hunter

By 1984, the shiny veneer of Scott Walker’s career as a British pop superstar had all but vanished. Scott 4 , while considered relatively tame and comparable to his first three Scott albums today, was viewed as too dense and dark upon its’ initial release in 1969 and was a commercial flop. It was the final tipping point before the singer fell into relative obscurity for nearly a decade. A brief but welcome reunion of the singers’ original pop trio The Walker Brothers in the late 70s brought a renewed interest in Walker and a new appreciation for his forward thinking compositions. The Walkers Brother’s 1978 album Nite Flights was a hint at a unique new direction, but 1984’s Climate of Hunter was Scott Walker’s true transitional album.

Walker is the master of strange juxtapositions in his music. Album opener “Rawhide” begins with what sounds like someone unable to find a steady rhythm on a cowbell before morphing into a driven and fully orchestrated pop song. The signature jarring string sound that Walker first started to pioneer as early as Scott 3 is used to full effect on Climate of Hunter. Always skirting a thin line between falling into total dissonance and floating into ethereal bliss, the droning strings serve as mainly the background to the seemingly disparate elements that appear throughout. Lyrically, the album is abstract and nearly impenetrable, continuing Walker’s obsession with “blocks” of words that first appeared on the Walker Brother’s Nite Flights. More focused on the aesthetic quality of the printed word on the page than the actual content contained therein, the lyrics are more akin to Burroughs’ cut-up writing technique than the risqué pop narratives Walker was associated with in his past.

Walker hired many established session and guest musicians for the recording of Climate of Hunter and reportedly kept the recording work in progress secretive from most. Only few were trusted to hear and play along with Walker’s melodic plan for the music. Nothing else typifies this recording style more than the albums most fascinating moment, “Dealer.” “Dealer” is a song more focused on textural complexity than melodic coherence. Mo Foster’s bass provides a spacey, melodic counterpoint to Scott’s crooning baritone and chiming synthesizer flourishes, and Peter Van Hook’s drums, while played in a traditional 4/4 rock beat, oddly accent the third beat making the rhythm anything but traditional. Free jazz Pioneer Evan Parker’s saxophone and Mark Isham’s trumpet drift in and out; at points it feels like the song will disappear with them into the distance. The effect is one of Walker’s most gorgeous and memorable creations.

Ideas that sound too peculiar to possibly work out provide some of Climate of Hunter’s most remarkable moments. These include Billy Ocean’s (yes-that Billy Ocean) backup vocals on the slightly menacing “Three,” which help make it the most viable pop single on the album. “Sleepwalker Woman” updates Scott Walker’s unique baroque pop and wouldn’t sound out of place on Scott 3. Even Mark Knopfler (yes-that Mark Knopfler) provides an interesting and minimal guitar backdrop to the Tennessee Williams cover “Blanket Roll Blues.” Its inclusion as the album closer may be the strangest juxtaposition of all.

Of course, Climate of Hunter is not without growing pains. The tacky lead guitar solos that find their way into a number of tracks and the overly glossy production definitely date the album to its early 80s origin. The album, although extremely varied, is also disappointingly short. Despite these issues, Climate of Hunter remains one of Walkers’ most fascinating works. It both showcases his talents as a brilliant pop songwriter and arranger while also linking his future as one of the most enigmatic avant-garde musicians of the 21st century.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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