Bish Bosch is, according to Scott Walker, the final recording in the trilogy that began with 1995’s Tilt and continued in 2006’s The Drift. Its title combines urban slang for the word "bitch" and the last name of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Like its predecessors, Bish Bosch is not an easy listen initially. It's utterly strange, yet alluring. Musically, Walker is as rangy and cagey as ever. His players have worked with him since Tilt; they know exactly what he wants and how to get it. A string orchestra arranged and conducted by keyboardist Mark Warman, and a full symphony on three cuts are also employed. The lyrics on Bish Bosch are full of obscure historical, philosophical, medical, geographical and cultural allusions. For instance, subatomic science, a dwarf jester in Attila the Hun’s court, St. Simeon, and an early 20th century fad all appear in "SDSS14+3B (Zircon, A Flagpole Sitter)." Elsewhere, Nicolai Ceausescu, Nikita Khrushchev, the Ku Klux Klan, and God himself show up. While Bish Bosch is another exercise in artful pretension, it is the most accessible entry in this trilogy and well worth the effort to get at it. Themes of decay are woven throughout these songs – of empire, of the body, of language and religion – yet they are often complemented and illustrated by wry, pun-like, and even scatological humor.
There were intermittent soundtrack and score contributions of varying magnitudes, as well as a couple other low-key projects, but The Drift is Scott Walker's proper follow-up to 1995's Tilt, an album that also happened to trail its predecessor by 11 years. If 1984's Climate of Hunter put the MOR in morose, Tilt avoided the road completely and went straight toward the fractured, fraught images inside Walker's nightmares. It was entirely removed from anything that could've been classified as contemporary. The Drift isn't an equally severe leap from Tilt, but it is darker, less arranged, alternately more and less dense, and ultimately more frightening. Maybe it'll make your body temperature drop a few degrees. Working with what Walker has referred to as "blocks of sound," only a few of the album's 68 minutes have any connection to rock music, and many of those minutes are part of a harrowing 9/11 song that also obliquely references "Jailhouse Rock" as Elvis Presley cries out ("I'm the only one left alive!") to his stillborn twin brother. The songs swing from hovering drones to crushing jolts.
A veteran pianist deserving of wider recognition, Larry Vuckovich has spent several decades on the American jazz scene since leaving his native Yugoslavia for the U.S. in the early '50s. For the most part the songs on these 2011 sessions focus on bop and hard bop from the late '50s and early '60s, ranging from solo piano to trio, quartet, and quintet, featuring tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton on five selections. Vuckovich's working group includes tenor saxophonist Noel Jewkes, bassist Paul Keller, and drummer Chuck McPherson. Vuckovich's solo treatment of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" mixes glistening lines with jaunty bop, while his approach to Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" is lush with a few Tatum-inspired runs added for fun.
One of the most enigmatic figures in rock history, Scott Walker was known as Scotty Engel when he cut obscure flop records in the late '50s and early '60s in the teen idol vein. He then hooked up with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form the Walker Brothers. They weren't named Walker, they weren't brothers, and they weren't English, but they nevertheless became a part of the British Invasion after moving to the U.K. in 1965. They enjoyed a couple of years of massive success there (and a couple of hits in the U.S.) in a Righteous Brothers vein. As their full-throated lead singer and principal songwriter, Walker was the dominant artistic force in the group, who split in 1967. While remaining virtually unknown in his homeland, Walker launched a hugely successful solo career in Britain with a unique blend of orchestrated, almost MOR arrangements with idiosyncratic and morose lyrics. At the height of psychedelia, Walker openly looked to crooners like Sinatra, Jack Jones, and Tony Bennett for inspiration, and to Jacques Brel for much of his material. None of those balladeers, however, would have sung about the oddball subjects – prostitutes, transvestites, suicidal brooders, plagues, and Joseph Stalin – that populated Walker's songs.