Illustration from Edwin Booth in Twelve Dramatic Characters by Winter, Hennessy, and Linton, 1872
In the late '60s, Scott Walker was known as the "thinking man's crooner" (or so I've been told) - this is a sobriquet that raises the important question, "Is that something that we really need?" I've been of two minds on the subject of Scott Walker for a long time (crooner-era Walker, that is - I haven't had the guts to explore his later avant-garde records). I bought Scott 3 and Scott 4 (the second half of his big four-album run) a few years ago, with mixed results. The fact that Walker composed all the songs on Scott 4 made it more immediately appealing - the three Jacques Brel songs at the end of Scott 3 never sat quite right with me. Nevertheless, I recently decided to take a chance on Scott 2, an album also anchored by three Brel compositions, most notably "Jackie", which was one of Walker's biggest hits.
The surprisingly profane and sexually suggestive songs by Brel make the biggest first impression on Scott 2. It's weird to hear a traditional-sounding vocalist like Walker singing these skewed cabaret songs - lines like "I swear on the wet head of of my first case of gonorrhea" leave a distinct impression. "Jackie" is an impressive piece of work, and "Next" wins the prize of being the most explicit, but the more pop-oriented (but still somewhat risque) "The Girls and the Dogs" is my favorite. The Walker-penned tunes are also a lot of fun, particularly the symphonic psychedelia of "The Amorous Humphrey Plugg" and "Plastic Palace People". The rest of the tracks are a mixed bag of covers, some that work (Tim Hardin's "Black Sheep Boy") and some that don't quite (the turgid "Windows of the World", which had been a hit for Dionne Warwick the previous year). Walker's dramatic delivery is still a moderate stumbling block for me in taking his albums seriously, but, when I'm in the mood for a "thinking man's crooner", I know what records to reach for.
"The Girls and the Dogs" by Scott Walker