What we learned from Soused, the new collaborative album between veteran cult crooner Scott Walker and thunderous drone-metal duo Sunn O)))
Walker has a long memory and a keen ear for extreme music.
Sunn O))) first approached Walker in 2008 suggesting a one-track collaboration on their Monoliths & Dimensions album. The singer declined, but made contact with the duo again in 2013 to pitch a full-length joint venture. He would bring the cryptic, disjointed, dense lyrical screeds if Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson provide the Wagnerian backdrop of mountainous doom chords and slow-motion sonic torture. Formal dinner dress optional.
**The musical kinship between a cult 71-year-old art-pop legend and two 40-ish post-metal headbangers is less bizarre than it first sounds. **
Some genre-blurring, pan-generational collaborations feel contrived and gimmicky, but the mutual chemistry between Walker and Sunn O))) makes sense. The Seattle duo have been drifting deeper into avant-garde noise-rock waters for the last decade, while their sludge-metal heaviosity sits easily with Walker’s restless thirst for abrasive and challenging backdrops to frame his stream-of-conscious lyrics.
**Walker can still turn on that magnificent operatic voice in unlikely circumstances. **
Check out the mighty Brando, which features Walker at full matinee-idol blast, channelling the widescreen grandeur of his Walker Brothers prime. But pretty soon the seismic guitar shudders, cracking bullwhip percussion and doomy electro-mechanical convulsions begin as the singer descends into a punishment dungeon of his own making: “I am down on my knees / a beating would do me a world of good.”
Soused puts clear musical distance between Walker and his previous excursion into ear-pummelling post-rock, Bish Bosch from 2012.
Walker’s second album in two years marks a striking progression from Bish Bosch, with its complex meshes of twisted swing-jazz rhythms and gleaming machete-blade percussion. Inevitably, Soused sounds much more guitar-heavy and monumental, but without sacrificing Walker’s love for intricate sonic textures. Perhaps the closest link between the two albums is Fetish, which opens with mangled boogie-woogie piano and metallic scything effects before erupting into an apocalyptic firestorm of orchestral-metal obliteration.
He may have left from his pop-star past behind, but Walker seems happy to revisit his more recent back catalogue.
Soused’s surprisingly delicate closing track, Lullaby, started life as a gleaming cabaret ballad with Brechtian overtones penned by Walker for German chanteuse Ute Lemper. His Sunn O))) remake beefs up the song’s atonal drones and churning horror-movie chorus, with a darkly funny final line that sounds like the ultimate nightmare scenario for a notoriously reclusive singer: “the most intimate personal choices and requests central to your personal dignity will be sung.” Ouch.