I adore Scott Walker, and have done since I discovered him, off the back of Bowie, as a teenager. This compilation of the nine Jacques Brel songs that he covers on his first three solo albums is the first Walker that I listened to and I fell hard for his stunning baritone voice, as well as the wonderfully poetic, high pschyo-drama, yet totally down to earth lyrics of Brel.
I love the black humour of Brel’s songs: the pathos, the sarcasm, the sheer buttock-clenching visceral reality of life that he portrays. Death, prostitutes, queer army lieutenants, gonorrhoea: no subject is sacred. Aside from this album being a showcase of Walker’s incredible voice and ability to infuse his songs with a deep sense of humanity and love-torn world-weariness, it’s a brilliant primer also to the unique world of the Belgian Brel.
If You Go Away is utterly sublime, Amsterdam is a fantastically evocative waltz-hymn to that city of seamen, My Death is quite the most dramatic statement on the burden of mortality I’ve ever heard. This was a particular concert favrouite of Bowie and features such wonderful lyrics as: “My death waits like a bible truth / At the funeral of my youth.” Big shout out to Mort Shuman and Eric Blau for their beautifully poetic translations.
Jackie is perhaps the best known song (to British listeners) on this album, as it was covered by Marc Almond in typically understated fashion in 1991, giving him a Top 20 hit.
Best Bits: Next. At the age of fourteen this shattered my perception of what popular songs could do, both in terms of the music, Brel’s in-your-face lyrics and Scott Walker’s dramatic vocals. And let’s not forget the arrangements and orchestration of Angela Morley (nee Wally Stott, actually misspelt as Scott on the album).
Genre: Chansons Extraordinaire
Like This, Try This: Alex Harvey’s supremely dramatic version of Next, his thick Glaswegian accent bringing extra power and cynicism to the song.