Scott Walker, the 60’s balladeer turned extreme experimentalist, is back with his fourteenth LP, Bish Bosch. Or “bitchy Hieronymus Bosch.” Why Bosch? Because he, like the surreal 15th century Dutch painter, can’t be interpreted in a single viewing, which is a pretentiously valid description of this 73-minute epic.
Experimental music is the most subjective of all “genres,” so critiques – this one not withstanding – need to be taken with an extra grain of salt. Regardless, as an experimental fan/masochist, I love art that celebrates depravity, evokes uneasiness or is genuinely unique as much as anybody – particularly rock-oriented artists like Daughters and Zach Hill. “Junk food” music gets stale, and that’s where these guys come in.
Here, Walker again backs his signature, operatic baritone with a jazz-rock band, an orchestra and some electronic bells and whistles. As for sound effects, the farts – yes, farts – are just plain stupid, but the rest work in their cinematic, nightmarish way. His beat-influenced poetry is honestly bleak, and delivered with a dictionary-put-in-a-blender method that, by comparison, makes Cedric Bixler‘s lyrics read like a children’s book. Continuing his fascination with human disease, Walker hits his stride on “Epizootics!” [LISTEN]
Maman Neigho was frightened by Hawaiians
When all the veins ran out
Foresook the eyebrows climbing into greasy black hairlines
Narcrotic leis yanked down around melianomed ankles
He’s invented “narcrotic” from ‘narcotic’ and ‘necrotic,’ combining a molasses-thick opiate brain-bath with the related organic deterioration in death, all followed with cancerous imagery. These portmanteaus are just a cherry atop his other vocab-bombs and codes, many borrowed from other languages. Other highlights include distorted, alien-like screaming about fussy eaters on “SDSS1416+13B,” or his self-administered – yet unanswered – personality test on the “Fitter, Happier“-esque “The Day The ‘Conducator’ Died.”
However, Bish Bosch doesn’t quite strike as hard as 2006’s The Drift because it’s not complete. While the music and lyrics match as they suddenly zigzag, most of the songs lack an overall narrative or direction; they don’t have any sort of destination that validates the journey. Maybe that’s just sooo mainstream? Instead, the end result is more like poetry being sung over assorted, old-timey radio sound effects. Or rather, a cerebral, avant-garde horror film soundtrack.
There’s a moment on “SDSS…,” before that part where he has a character severing his “reeking gonads” and feeding them to a “shrunken face,” and after he barrages “Phrasing” with a “here’s to a lousy life” coda-quartet, where Walker seems to preemptively attack anyone who doesn’t ‘get’ Bish Bosch with a slew of “Yo-Momma” grade insults:
This is my job,
I don’t come around and put out your red light when you work
What’s the matter,
Didn’t you get enough attention at home?
The 2009 movie Untitled lightheartedly exposes and jabs this artistic outlook, and I am prescribing Scott Walker to watch this movie. If he’s found he’s had a “lousy life,” then he needs to take things a little less seriously.