Saint Etienne - "Manhattan" (Music Inspired by the Film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man)
He hasn’t released a new album since 2006’s The Drift, and he likely won’t release another for the next decade or so. And yet, mass appreciation for Scott “Walker” Engel, the First World’s favorite teen-idol-turned-existentialist-crooner-turned-avant-classical-enigma, has of late undergone a little renaissance. His cryptic jingle “30 Century Man” (no “-th”) was featured in one of those Wes Anderson flicks and became a hipster handshake. The Drift, probably his most “difficult” creation ever, luxuriated in critical praise. And Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Stephen Kijak’s elegant, captivating 2006 documentary, puts his scattered career in perspective and keeps making new friends. His brilliant obfuscations notwithstanding, people are finally starting to “get” the man. At least, a lot more people “get” Walker in their own respective ways.
Which brings us to this tribute disc, which begins as an emphatically understated affair. Predictably, it draws heavily on Walker’s four late-’60s Scott LPs, which represent, if not his creative zenith, at least his most compelling and humanistic pop music. The album starts slooowly: After Peter Broderick’s a cappella “Duchess” and Sally Norvell’s vox-and-piano “Big Louise,” Damon & Naomi’s sax-laced adult-contemporary take on “The World’s Strongest Man” feels like one pleasant snoozer too many.
Stick with it, though. Much more interesting are songs four and five: Saint Etienne’s “Manhattan” (a selection from Walker’s controversial ’95 hum-dinger Tilt) and Laurie Anderson’s “The Electrician” (from the Walker Brothers’ bizarre ’78 anti-comeback Nite Flights). The lush read on “Manhattan” echoes the Beach Boys’ “Cabinessence” and exposes the frightened beauty and melodic complexity beneath Walker’s forbidding arrangement. “The Electrician” inhabits an opposite pole; it’s so quiet that it barely registers, but when it does, it’s cold and dissonant enough to out-weird the original.
After this, 30CM makes itself welcomer as it reenters a more comfortable atmosphere. Nicole Atkins’s “The Seventh Seal” functions surprisingly well as straight-ahead rock. Electro-pop cipher Ulrich Schnauss further dignifies the oft-covered lament “It’s Raining Today” by deleting most of the lyrics and not changing much else.
The Drift’s “A Lover Loves,” as recorded by ex-Swans anima Jarboe, strikes an impressive balance between the dark theatrics of Walker’s late-period work and the catholic pop sensibility that remains at its core. It demonstrates how distinctive a piece of music can sound when it absolutely refuses to identify itself.