Review Summary: The amazing gift of Scott Walker's is not forgotten, even after this album's boring second half.
Something of a lost album, Nite Flights is both an incredible vehicle for Scott Walker's dark and experimental songwriting and a collection of middling and boring post-disco from the other Walker brothers. Almost inexplicably, the songs are divided straight down the middle, leaving Scott Walker to open the album with his four tracks and Gary and John to contribute the final two and four songs respectively. This results in a terrific Scott Walker EP and then the rest.
Opener “Shutout” is the closest Walker ever came to disco, but it's still terrifically dark. Walker's usual orchestrated dissonance is here replaced by fuzzed-out guitar chords. There's even a shredding solo or two, an almost subversive use of a cliché to eviscerate this post-apocalyptic rock.
Walker's vocals are double-tracked, one voice belting out the more consonant melody and the other wavering apprehensively. The effect is haunting, and employed to great effect elsewhere on the album (and elsewhere in Walker's career). The lyrics can be difficult to parse, but still effecting in their spartan dark places. Walker suggests that “The Electrician” is about American torturers in South America and it is just the beginning of Walker's confrontation of political violence.
David Bowie claims that one of his ex-girlfriends once dated Scott Walker and preferred Walker's music to Bowie's. Bowie was instantly transfixed and even covered Scott for his live album Black Tie White Noise. That Bowie, such a singular presence in his own right, would recognize this monolithic talent displays how captivating Walker is. That Bowie's girlfriend would not give him up demonstrates Scott Walker's mystifying qualities.
After Scott Walker's four tracks, we lead directly into Gary Walker's songs. To say that they cause a bit of whiplash is a huge understatement. Most conventional artists following Scott would seem staid in comparison, but Gary is a weak songwriter by any measure.
Gary plods through “Death of Romance,” and the song's middling pace makes it feel like it's in excruciating pain. The pain is not esoteric or interesting, the song just seems to be yearning for a hook. That one just barely arrives on “Den Haague” is no substitute for Scott's absence.
John Walker's final four are better than Gary's, but they become imminently forgettable after a first listen. A song like “Disciples of Death” seems to be poking its nose into the Scott Walker aesthetic, but it presents a strange blend of genre tourism: it sounds something like a glam rock throwaway or a Kiss song with no teeth.
In today's climate, this whole album would never have happened; Scott would have saved his four gems for later release, knowing there would be an audience. By the conventions of the time, all of these tracks come together in one place, but anyone looking for this album today should put priority on the first four tracks.
This was a Scott Walker dry run and unfortunately, he wouldn't release another song until 1984's magnificent and underrated Climate of Hunter. But everyone who tuned into this somewhat obscure 1979 release knew that Scott Walker was a tremendous talent. It would be some years before he would become a cult obsession.