INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
San Francisco Chronicle JANUARY 23, 2009 - by Joel Selvin
SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN
The British pop music charts are like a parallel universe, where a recording artist such as Scott Walker can actually have an entire legendary career without anybody in the United States ever noticing.
One of pop's great reclusive geniuses, Walker earned a lifetime's worth of fame and adulation with a series of late-'60s solo albums featuring his beefy, quavery baritone deep into edge-of-the-abyss pop melancholia. His periodic re-emergences with epic new albums have kept British pop fans fascinated with him for decades and, indeed, the fine new rock documentary, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, trots out a parade of British rock stars to attest to Walker's luminance: David Bowie (executive producer of the film), Brian Eno, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and others.
Walker is a cult figure's cult figure. Born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio, he played around Los Angeles' Sunset Strip and joined a band that started playing in Britain. He hit the charts as part of the British pop group, the Walker Brothers, three men neither brothers nor named Walker. Scott Walker's rich, resonant vocal made the Four Seasons cast-off The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore a 1966 worldwide hit and Walker grew to specialise in lushly orchestrated, gloomy songs.
Director Stephen Kijak not only got a composed, almost warm interview out of Walker, but he filmed some of the sessions for Walker's latest adventuresome recording project, the 2006 release The Drift, where Kijak catches Walker instructing a percussionist on how to properly pound a slab of pork and coaxing a guitarist into sounding like a donkey braying.
To uninitiated Americans, the film offers a thorough introduction, complete with appropriate critical and sociological overviews, but in the end, the effect of the film remains linked to the appeal of Walker's music, which the filmmakers wisely make a prominent part of the film's foreground, even to the somewhat uncomfortable length of filming somewhat uncomfortable interview subjects listening to records.
Walker, alas, is not a lost genius, but more of an incidental anomaly, a weird aberration of the British pop music universe. The film slows down considerably in the third act when it starts to slog its way through Walker's latter-era, more experimental pop extravaganzas: all over-the-top productions, pixilated lyrics and barrel-chested delivery.
Still 30 Century Man lays out the whole Scott Walker phenomenon - the man, the music, the impact and the influence - a story from the other side of a parallel universe.