Review Summary: Dink-a-dink-a-dink. Dink-a-dink-a-doo. Ding-a-ling-a-dink!
With time, our musical memories shape-shift. While it's near-impossible to classify their musical trends at the time of their presence, in the end we can all remember what each era is famous for. The 1950s had rock and roll, the 80s went synth-crazy, but Scott Walker, songwriter and quasi-epic poet, has his own decade-defying paradigm set up, easily followed due to the sheer lack of releases.
1960s? Scott 1-4
. Lushly arranged pop padded with lugubrious crooning.
1970s? Nite Flights
. The first foray into avant-garde, but with a hint of danceability.
1980s? Climate of Hunter
. Scott giving up on mainstream. A questionable attempt at experimentation in an age of primitive technology.
. A deep, brooding and dense classic of great renown; the album that Walker found his feet for.
2000s? The Drift
. A showcase of how disturbed music can get. Horror poetry set to protracted silences and wailing donkeys.
2010s? Bish Bosch
. Balls-to-the-wall insanity.
Let's make one thing clear; Bish Bosch
doesn't toe the line. Walker himself has described it as 'the last in the trilogy', the other installments being Tilt
and The Drift
. But where Tilt
had strands of warmth, it also had dense buckets of murkiness and impenetrability. The Drift
, with its exceptional sonic variety, was brighter and more vibrant than its precursor, but not without being astonishingly unwelcoming, harsh and hostile. Bish Bosch
however, is possibly the most well-intentioned, welcoming album in Walker's back catalogue if you can stomach the gruesome, hysterical preposterousness of it all.
Taking many elements of what makes Walker's recent music so painfully captivating, the album has no time for niceties, it has no time for taboos and it certainly has no time to hang around waiting for you to catch up. It doesn't set scenes, contextualise or paint pictures of any coherence. It's off on its own and it knows it, even if it means the album's peculiarities often clamber over and crush each other on their route out of the speakers. But however bogged down it gets in dense soundscapes and obfuscated lyrical dimensions, Bish Bosch
holds its head above the water of pretentiousness, if only by the skin of its teeth. Walker's delivery is key to its appeal; it sees him frantically grabbing at the nearest passing ear, relaying imaginative absurdities about cow entrails and 'sphincters tooting a tune'
with such bizarre bravura; a kind of ironic gusto, making it twice as funny as from the mouth of anyone else. Where The Drift
had often sacrificed its own effectiveness by drawing that last bit of po-faced, macabre blood from the dictionary-stone (Famine is a tall tower! A building left in the night!
), Bish Bosch
abandons those same shackles and goes head over heels through lists of what can only be described as genuine jokes. Not wry phrases or interesting thoughts; actual punchline-based jokes. Perhaps the track that sums up and picks out this, the very essence of what Bish Bosch
is with a pair of tweezers is SDSS1416+13b
, a mammoth suite of musical ideas crammed together into 21 minutes of ear-bending, terrifying brilliance.
To write a considered review for this song alone could take as long as the next moon cycle, so mere mortals have to guess questions such as 'just how long did Scott Walker scroll through lists of 'sassy insults' on the internet for?'
• If sh*t were music, you'd be a brass band.
• I hear the only place you're ever invited is outside.
• If brains were rain, you'd surely be a desert.
• Does your face hurt? 'Cos it's killing me.
• You're so fat, when you wear a yellow raincoat, people scream 'TAXI!'
Interspersed between patches of thrash metal, metronomic guitars and eerie drones lies subject matter so mashed into an indecipherable pulp that it only adds to the surreal humour of the piece, for SDSS1416+13b
is, according to Walker, a song about the midget jester at the court of Attila the Hun. But since when do meanings matter to this man? What sort of silly artist would let subject matter get in the way of… well… subject matter? Penultimate number Pilgrim
can only be described as a ditty of coherent disregard, starting off with 'Hey-a hey-a hey-a'
, evoking a notably apt sonic vision of said pilgrim's religious chanting, but ending with stuttered pauses amid 'Blowin' up bullfrogs with a straw… Staring into their eyes just before they burst!'
But amidst all the madness, all the brainf*cking, heartbreaking dementia is one track that stands heads, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest; the monumental stream of fragmented consciousness that is Corps de Blah
. In all likelihood a song unlike any you'll have ever heard in all your years, it wanders on a bleak foray into aural properties of phrases, taking note of their semantic features and casting them into the darkness. 'Jihad jive lobsleaking beanbag'
and 'face full of drunken tits'
bookend the outmost reaches of the track in a variety of guises; gut-wrenching, angry, joyful and even kind of… mystical, culminating in a phrase that may stay with you for some time, 'Nothing clears a room... like removing a brain...'
. But amidst the nonsense and blunt madness, there are those faint guiding beacons of clarity that tap you on the shoulder and whisper 'hey, who are you to say the chorus of fart sounds isn't profound in some way?' You just never know.
Whilst still worthy, atmosphere-drenched efforts, album opener 'See You Don't Bump His Head
and its antipodean counterpart The Day the Conducător Died (An Xmas Song)
are two weaker punches of the Bish Bosch
repertoire, settling more for repetitive rhythms with husky vocals than the idea clusters that populate other extremes of the record, but no amount of inconsistency could ever alter the enormity of this album. The imaginatively crafted soundscapes, the intensely fidgety disquietude, and above all just the earth-shattering quality of the incoherence is so powerfully crafted that you'll be rolling about on the floor by the time that spastic rendition of Jingle Bells caps off the final moments of the record. Left with wit and venom to spare, where can Walker go from here? Is this really the end of the 'trilogy'? As a man who has no qualms in disappearing for years at a time, Walker, at age 70, may well be done and dusted with this sluggish, time-consuming business, and I, as a man who will wait patiently for those indefinite years to pass, will be devastated.
For once there is no mitigation, there are no 'howevers'
or 'if onlys'
; Bish Bosch
is a horrifically ambiguous mess, but it is a certifiably unambiguous masterpiece. A groundbreaking, sprawling album that is so unashamedly crazy that it just works. The Drift
caught us with our trousers around our ankles, but Bish Bosch
rips them off and wears them as a hat. It raises the bar that nobody's trying to vault, showcasing the absurd and the sublime, plumping itself up with whatever got left at the bottom of the lunacy barrel. What Walker has created is the first truly indispensable piece of modern avant-garde; it never drags or gets bogged down in self-indulgent pontificating. You put the CD in the player. You press play. Bish Bosch
pauses, takes one deep breath, and then gets on with reducing you to a crumbling mess of laughter and disbelief like you'll never have experienced before.