Scott Walker – Bish Bosch

Let’s be certain: ‘Bish Bosch’ is weird. It is unashamedly weird. Scott Walker has had quite a unique career – moving from baroque pop in the 60s to avant-garde composition since the 90s – yet despite being the third album to combine experimental, industrial, and orchestral sounds, ‘Bish Bosch’ might be the weirdest yet.


Songs are often sparse, thinly layered affairs, with car-crusher industrial rumbling beneath screeching noise and swelling violins. Each element is so dissonant, yet so different in texture and pitch that each instrument sounds like an island in itself. This is particularly powerful in the lengthiest track, “SDSS1416+13B”, punctured often by silence and only linked by Scott’s warm baritone. Often it’s only the soft vocals carrying some continuity through the music, but they often feel as disparate as anything else, frequently being the only melody in an unmelodic world.  This is putting disturbing and deliberately jarring lyrics aside – Walker seemingly has a fixation with destroying male genitalia, amongst everything else.


When all of these elements are sewn together, however, the overall effect isn’t something unimaginably creepy as it is something trying to be unimaginably creepy. Despite being strongly influenced by the European avant-garde, the appeal of ‘Bish Bosch’ is closer to a B-rate horror movie – you expect it to be terrible, it’s as terrible as you thought, and the sheer terribleness is actually somewhat addictive. Walker’s work certainly isn’t terrible, but its weirdness acts similarly – it’s fixating in its own right beyond shock value. It is exactly what the layman would expect an avant-garde record to be, and that’s fascinating.


This “freakshow” appeal, though, does tire on some tracks, and can be emotionally flat. Some of the pieces seem too thinly layered, too deliberate. Indeed, the most effective work tries at something else – the denser, more accessible “Phrasing” and the brass-heavy, jazz-influenced “Epizootics!” are refreshing and more engaging for the variety they provide.  Walker’s lyrics do sometimes betray a more complicated character, however – indeed, there’s almost a twisted, self-mocking humour in some of Walker’s ball-breaking sadism, sometimes deliberately over-the-top, as if the voice crooning is distinctly aware of how stereotypically freakish the lurching string sections and knife-like sound effects appear.


At rare moments, though, Walker will throw out a piercingly lonely, terrifying remark – one which will seem more than disturbing. One wonders: Is this self-aware, comically freakish voice the only one genuinely disturbed by their own remarks? Is Scott Walker the only person who understands Scott Walker? Possibly, but regardless of how distant and patchy the album seems, it’s fascinating to try and unpick it for yourself.