Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Scott Walker
Climate Of Hunter

Released 1984 on Virgin
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 10/09/2002ce

This massively maligned album was Scott Walker's only album of the 1980's and the only fruits of a lucrative contract with Virgin Records that promised much and delivered so little. It seemed inconceivable that a stellar and legendary talent like his own could fall so dramatically from both critical and public grace, but that is what occurred with 'Climate Of Hunter'. 'Tilt', ten years later, did nothing to redress the matter. A great shame, because both albums, especially this one, took a hell of a lot of balls to make. And I believe the time is right for a reassessment of an album that, unlike so many released in the 1980's, has dated very little and, weird as it is, actually seems to make sounder sense now than it ever did.

To those who've never heard 'Climate', it's not an easy record to describe. It's a short album of seven highly original songs and one blues cover, only half of which bear proper titles, set in a wash of dischordant, jarring keyboards and rippling bass lines. Lyrically it makes very little sense, not that it matters when a top-form Engel is caressing his patent tones into the very depths of your willing soul. And, whatever else may strike you about this very left-field record, you can't fail to melt to THAT VOICE which, mixed right into your face, dominates 'Climate' so wonderfully. Backing the man is the most esoterically-assembled posse of international talent it's possible to imagine - there can't be many single-artist albums that feature artists as disperate as Mark Knopfler, Evan Parker and Billy Ocean for example - but they bring to the album a stratospheric range of sounds and influences that help make the overall result so damn strange and unique. But, make no mistake, this is Scott's baby. Period.

'Rawhide' gives an initially gentle indication of the soundworld to come. Arhythmic taps on what sounds like a soup pan let go to a continuous verse/chorus that, although perfectly tonal in concept, has no recognisable hooks or licks to get to grips with. As the song progresses the sound gets bigger and bigger, enhanced by an awesome string backing that, behind that perfect tenor voice, comes some way to recalling the intricate and precise arrangements of Scott's great sixties' releases. It takes time and repeated listening, but 'Rawhide' is a secret treasure in the great man's output.

The second song, 'Dealer', boasts a deadly slow 4/4 rhythm (with unusual dominance on the third beat) over which Walker wails a repeated two-line verse tune in a key seven seas away from that of the Wyattesque sustained keyboard. The disquiet gives way only when the gorgeous chorus tune emerges and free jazz legend Evan Parker contributes his quite marvellous soprano solo. Again, give it time and it'll take you over.

'Track Three' was the single from the album, but Spandau Ballet had no worries with this one. Another endless keyboard drone precludes a powerhouse drum beat and vocal harmony between Walker and Billy Ocean that sounds ever-so-slightly panic ridden. Actually, it's the most conventional 'rock' song on the whole record, almost Simple Minds in feel, with blistering guitar solos in the middle and at the end from ace session man Ray Russell. But those weird held keyboard notes take away any pretence of commerciality from the track and render its release as a 45 a complete joke.

'Sleepwalkers Woman' is 'Climate's' unqualified masterpiece. Starting off like an excerpt from Eno's 'Music For Films', it slowly develops into something more akin to a Mahler slow movement. Over this lush and heavenly background Walker intones a tune of the simplest and most perfect beauty. If you're not floating on air as he sings "For the first time unwoken I am returned" then man, you ain't got no soul. This song has the best vocal on the album and an orchestral arrangement that deserves a knighthood. If you hear nothing else from the album, please try to hear this gem.

'Track Five' starts the second side with a ghostly, sparsely accompanied vocal that gives no warning of the massive drums that flood in soon afterwards. The song sounds like early Magazine with their John Barry fixation to the fore, but poor Howard Devoto never had a voice like Scott's. Our hero almost gives the impression of showing his young new wave pretenders how it should be done. And the song's fade to a backing that apes 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' in rhythm and sound will raise more than an eyebrow among those in the know.

'Track Six' takes us back to the beat, sound and feel of 'Dealer' on the first side, at least until the point where Evan Parker explodes into the mix with his multitracked, circular-breathed soprano and tenor saxes that swarm like locusts right up to the song's fadeout. The effect is tense, stressful and utterly at odds with Walker's calmly-intoned croon. Well weird, but mesmeric too.

'Track Seven' is 'Climate's' other 'regular' track, again with a misleading slow intro that sounds like it belongs to a completely different song. From then on it's basically a rewrite of 'Track Three' with more searing guitar work that sounds like an unholy alliance between Clapton and Hillage. On its own merits it's a damn fine bit of eighties' rock, but the real deal of its parent album is something more more diverse than rock alone.

And as if to prove my point, Walker ends his opus with a quiet, slow rendition of Tennessee Williams' 'Blanket Roll Blues', accompanied only by Mark Knopfler's masterful acoustic guitar playing. (Had Knopfler exhibited the level of taste, style and subtlety he does here on the rest of his catalogue we'd all be raving about Dire Straits albums on 'Unsung'!). One verse of unaccompanied guitar, one of Scott at his most engagingly morose, and it's over, hanging unresolved in mid-air. And the only thing to do is flip the record over and play it all over again.

'Climate Of Hunter' is probably the worst-selling record Scott Walker ever made. It didn't stay in Virgin's full priced range for long and even at mid-price was deleted by the turn of the nineties, hardly helped by the universal tide of lousy reviews it garnered on first release. In a sense, I can understand that - after over a decade of waiting, something as unusual and unexpected as this hardly immediate collection of largely untitled and unconventional songs was well hard to take. But an album as adventurous and brave as 'Climate' can't be cast aside forever. Over the years I've played it rarely, then occasionally, then regularly, to the point where I simply could not be without a copy. Pick up a second hand copy somewhere - probably very cheaply - and bear with it. I think you're going to like it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

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