Review: Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
Scott Walker’s musical journey from 1960s’ pop icon and frontman of the boy band The Walker Brothers (whose UK popularity rivaled that other boy band, The Beatles) is as perilous as the fifty or so years of history that have passed since the magic bullet exploded President Kennedy’s head in Dealy Plaza and ended our illusory innocence.
Government-sanctioned torture prisons, corporate hegemony, and endless war characterize our time, whose violence makes it impossible to believe that we ever believed in Mop Tops and the orchestral pop of manufactured trios of Walker Brothers (it’s true: Scott, John, and Gary weren’t actually brothers).
The three records that Scott Walker has made since 1995 – Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006), and now Bish Bosch – perhaps constitute the best sonic exploration of this violence. This isn’t hyperbole. Walker is a true artist, fearless and incomparable, and Bish Bosch could very well be his masterpiece. In its sheer ambition and innovations, it could be the best album of the year – and maybe the best album of the decade thus far.
Again, this isn’t hyperbole. Bish Bosch exists to challenge you to visit the darkest recesses of the time in which you live. The title is key. According to Walker’s website, the word Bish is Norwegian slang for “bitch,” and Bosch refers to the late 15th- and early 16th-century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, who populated his paintings with fantastic and demonic imagery that often depicted the torments of Hell. And Walker’s record is a contemporary Bosch: a difficult (or, “bitchy”), detailed depiction of the Hell of modern history – or, as Walker’s website proclaims – a “job done” and “sorted.”
Walker most definitely has done his job on Bish Bosch. The 10-minute epic Epiczootics! encapsulates what Walker has sorted out for us. It begins with strange baritone sax blasts that disorient you. Then a mechanical backbeat enters to ground the song in something, before Walker’s incomparable baritone voice enters the fray, delivering lyrics about “putrid petals dropping, erasing white shoes, like a face being eaten by a jungle.” The singing here is truly creepy, and the time signature changes and seemingly randomly linked disturbing images (see: “gut bucket,” “Scratch and Jesus on the corner,” and “humping buggers”) are a sonic revelation of a Bosch painting, a mirror of the chaotic befuddlement of our days.
The other songs on Bish Bosch follow the same approach as Epiczootics!. But the record never feels repetitive because the singing, lyrics, and, most of all, the sounds are so fascinatingly frenzied. Lead track See You Don’t Bump His Head contains high-pitched washes of synth noise, occasional heavy guitar riffs, and the repeated line “While plucking feathers from a swan song” as the main structural element of the song.
Dimple begins with a harsh, percussive slam, and then Walker’s voice enters to scary synth sounds and announces that it’s “November in July.” Then the lyrics devolve into nonsense – “INK, A DINK A DINK” and “A DINK A DINK A DINK A DOO” – backed by what sounds like machine gun fire.
So Bish Bosch equals nonsensical violence. See Tar, which opens with the sound of swords being sharpened and poetry about babies, Jacob’s offspring in Egypt, and prophesies of how the righteous will perish.
Also see Bish Bosch’s 21:41 centerpiece SDSS 1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter), which opens with Walker intoning a cappella a summation of the album: “If shit were music, you’d be a brass band.” Bish Bosch isn’t shit – it’s, in fact, genius – and its sonic innovations capture the horror of our times with the clarity of a brass band. It’s this clarity, this mirror of the way we live now, which makes Scott Walker’s latest record necessary for you to experience now.