The first song I reached for when I read Scott had passed was ‘Nite Flights’. Something about the strange, languid defiance of this song has always lifted me.
The four tracks Scott contributed to the Walker Brothers final album represent the pivotal moment in his discography, the hinge that connects Scott Walker the faded 60’s pop star to latter-day avant Scott. The album itself was a contract filler, recorded in 1978 when the Walker Brother’s reunion had worn out a brief mid-decade welcome. They could have hashed out a few covers and called it quits, instead they each decided to make their own mini album. In Scott’s case the results were all the more enthralling for the years of artistic near-dormancy that preceded them. Suddenly, here was the supreme command, the auteur’s precision and dark drama that had characterised the quartet of records that had seen him become the toast of late ‘60s British pop, only to overreach and fall precipitously from grace.
The person who made those records was irreconcilably altered by the years in the wilderness that followed. From this point on, his lyrics would be inscrutable, rich in bleak, often nightmarish imagery, while the music would skew ever forward down a path of discord and despair. That said, ‘Nite Flights’ is an accessible song, at least musically. Over a pounding disco/kraut backing, that cavernous voice is reborn in roiling oddness:
its so cold
torn and broke
the raw meat fist
And then the tonal shift into something like serene redemption:
be my love
we will be gods
on nite flights
only one promise
only one way
That the album was another flop probably surprised no-one involved at the time, but it must have come as a major blow all the same. Scott had created arguably his finest work up to that point, and no one had cared. It wasn’t until Julian Cope’s Fire Escape in The Sky compilation a few years later that Scott’s fortunes really started to look up. Culthood set in around his increasingly enigmatic legend. And while the cult of Scott centred around veneration of his solo ‘60s catalogue, his new work gradually gained acceptance. By 2006’s The Drift, things had come full circle. It heralded a late flowering, slow burning renaissance that represents perhaps the longest comeback in pop history, beginning with Nite Flights and gaining momentum over the decades that followed. When his death was announced the disparity between the pop star many of his generation remember for a few 60s mega-singles and the totally committed, fearless, uncompromising artist that emerged much later was evident as ever. The person born Noel Scott Engel embodied such a unique multiverse of possibilities in his music. Nite Flights captures him poised on the threshold of all the doors he opened, and those he left closed. Neil Brogan
Neil Brogan will be playing some Scott Walker and much more on Backstop Hop!, his new show on Dublin Digital Radio on Thursday, March 28 from 5-6pm.