50 years ago, Scott Walker releases Scott 3
Noel Scott Engel, best known by his assumed moniker Scott Walker, had tasted success well before the release of his fourth solo album, Scott 3 (Note: the fact that the title didn’t coincide with its order of release can be attributed to the fact that his first solo album was an eponymous effort, forcing subsequent albums to take on a belated numerical order.)
As a member of the Walker Brothers (who weren’t really brothers at all), they gave America its initial real offensive against the so-called British Invasion of the 1960s by becoming the first Yanks to establish a beach head on English soil by relocating themselves to London in early 1965. Almost instantly, they successfully planted themselves in the U.K. pop charts courtesy of three successive singles — “Make It Easy on Yourself,” “My Ship Is Coming In” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” each an exquisite blend of pure pop appeal and their own sophisticated stylings.
Yet, despite their early momentum, the hits dried up as the decade creeped towards its conclusion, and the usual internal friction eventually persuaded each member of the trio to go his own separate way. It was immediately apparent that Engel, who had slowly assumed the most prominent role in the band, was destined to be the most successful, but even so, Scott 3 took many of his early admirers by surprise. Engel’s apparent fascination with a lush, lounge type approach could have been a carryover from the group’s debt to Burt Bacharach — the man responsible for handing them “Make It Easy On Yourself” early on — but even so, his transition into a convincing cabaret crooner was so MOR it seemed entirely unexpected. Never mind that the lyrics were often obtuse — “Like the Gothic Monsters perched on Notre Dame, We observe the naked souls of cutters pouring forth mankind,” he declares on “We Came Through,” adding a pointedly poetic stance to the bold symphonic sweep.
Not that the results are unsatisfying by any means. The didactic orchestral intro accorded “Big Louise” and “We Made It Through” hinted at the avant garde experimentation that would find him etching his reputation as a genuinely innovative and iconic artist in later years. Likewise, the track “30 Century Man” became a popular signature songs, so much so that it was re-imagined by the power pop combo Jigsaw Seen when they re-recorded it for the score of the animated film “Futurama: Bender’s Big Score” in 1982.
Still, the fact that Engel himself wrote all but the album’s three final entries, which were credited to longtime Walker influence Jacques Brel, suggests that establishing himself as an adult balladeer was a decided effort on his part. Several songs — “Butterfly,” “Two Ragged Soldiers” and “Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone” have him sounding like Sinatra in his passion and pathos, Dryly dramatic, Engel’s originals segue smoothly into the Brel ballads, suggesting that Engel had a promising career ahead of him if Vegas or Miami Beach proved his ultimate destination. Indeed, his reading of the assured standby “If You Go Away” easily rivals any of the many versions recorded over the years, including the original rendition by Brel himself.
Still, Scott 3 has aged well, its ornate string arrangements now viewed in hindsight as evidence of Engel’s desire to expand his template and break a few boundaries in the process. Heartbreak and happenstance were the calling cards that allowed him to mine his muse, and forever imbue a legacy that would linger with him for many decades to come.