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Album Review: Scott Walker – Bish Bosch

At 3am, numb, cold and frustrated, the completion of Bish Bosch seems nothing more than a pyrrhic victory of quite unknown measures. Throughout its duration – despite inaudible gasps taken for breathlessness at the sheer scale, depth and audacity, verve and vigour and  ludicrous extent of the record – only two questions have pulsed incessantly: is this music, and if so, can it be reviewed?

See, this record is pure Machiavellianism formed of utter pessimistic wickedness. It is the hysterical lament of the damned man wrought from pain and carved by suffering. It is encyclopaedic in the content it undertakes to analyse, the outpouring final testament of the aesthete condemned, the babbling, lucid, aged prodigy exhumed. Is this demented cacophony – of jackhammer maelstroms, barks, farts, and sleigh bells, medieval nursery rhymes purred in lunacy and roman numerals chanted as incantations – music?

Scott Walker builds his towers of Babel all about his confounding words. It is the visualisation of abstract thoughts that dictates musical direction. ‘The Day the Conducãtor Died’ therefore becomes a Christmas song, with the ultra-violent firing-squad execution of Romanian despot Nicolae Ceausescu on 25th December 1989 forming the foundations for the juxtaposition of two refrains, the tinkling refrain of jingle bells set against the wearied haunt “nobody waited for fire”. Epic composition ‘SDSS 1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole sitter)’ shatters the fragile stands between Attila the Hun’s Moorish jester, a star radiating five hundred kelvin and the portentous nature of storks to classical and barbaric civilisation with dead silences, echoed screams and chasms of agitated noise.

Such unworldly creations seem anti-music – a defiance of genre, form, the entire perception and anticipation of what music constitutes. Potential predecessors – in the form of Captain Beefheart and John Cage – exist, yet provide no guidelines for expectations. This record is challenging, exhausting, numbing and frustrating. Incessant, unresponsive and unwilling to hesitate or muse, it instantaneously appals. Paradoxically, this is its perfection.

Bish Bosch can be anything. Perhaps it is a reference to Hieronymus Bosch, Dutch painter of the crushingly intricate and precise The Garden of Earthly Delights, with every millimetre of the uncongenial, non-conformist canvas demanding utmost appreciation, soul-searching and questioning. Perhaps, as tentatively mentioned, it means little more than bitch. Or perhaps, though surely not, it is the end of Scott Walker, the job finished, the final coup de grâce to his compositions.

Whatever the meaning, the listener has to find it. The record captivates because it demands. There is no truth, only the product of what you think. Essentially, Bish Bosch is noise to make the brain tick. Any review can act only as the most superficial and unsatisfying of guides, because any interpretation lies within the listener, and will demand a great deal of thought. For that reason alone, this is music of exceptional status.

-Geraint Ellis

Taken from Notion Magazine Issue 61.

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