How high does Images soar? Higher than expected.
Images was the Walker Brothers’ first swan song, the last album they would release in the ’60s. Though they enjoyed tremendous success by reverse-engineering the British Invasion, bringing their American blue-eyed soul to the English shores, there was always something a bit…lame about them. In the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Zombies and more, the Walkers couldn’t help but stand out as middle-brow pop stars, competent but resolutely commercial and hampered by saccharine tendencies and grandiose, string-drenched arrangements.
And yet…Scott Walker’s voice had always been extraordinary, and though the Walker Brothers mainly performed covers, when the choice is inspired, their leader could make a song soar. The question, then, is how high does Images soar? Higher than expected. 1967, after all, was also the year of Scott’s solo debut Scott, and certain tracks very much presage the auspicious start of his own career, which opened with a celebrated four-album run.
On Images, Scott contributes the somewhat wacky, trumpet-heavy “Experience,” He adopts the persona of a Lothario on “Orpheus” with typically funny lines such as “I’m back to make your face/ So it smiles once again/ And harpoon you like a whale/ With a bent and rusty nail.” He delivers an extraordinary vocal turn on his original “Genevieve,” perhaps the album’s best song. Accompanied by a sinister harpsichord, Walker serenades the title figure, but as is typically the case, even this love song has a not inconsiderable melancholy tinge.
This is a Walker Brothers album, so there are some missteps. There is an unnecessary cover of “Blueberry Hill,” which has its sultry moments and coyly plucked strings but doesn’t leave a strong impression on the listener. The John Walker-penned “I Wanna Know” is a decidedly generic attempt at something like soul-influenced ‘60s rock. More successful is “Everything Under the Sun,” the Scott-sung opener. It has the swooning vibe of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” but it gives Scott the opportunity to explore the rougher, less polished dimensions of his pipes, and you can almost imagine him fronting a proper rock band.
Indeed, Scott pulls the most weight here, even on the covers. He brings suitable vibrato pathos to Michel Legrand’s “I Will Wait for You,” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and delivers a most effective version of “It Makes No Difference Now,” given a particularly dynamic and affecting arrangement. Although covering “Stand by Me” was a bit unnecessary, it benefits significantly from Scott’s singing, saving what would otherwise be album filler. But the real surprise here is John Walker’s “I Can’t Let It Happen to You,” a languorously sung track that reminds one that the Walker Brothers was more original when they focused on their own, more personal material.
Overall, Images is a fine album with some definite highlights, but it also signals the time for a change. The “brothers” would disband and begin solo careers, none more extraordinarily than the one born Scott Engel, whose turn toward the eccentric, anguished, humorously macabre cabaret of his ‘60s output can be glimpsed here. And yet, it would not be the end of the Walkers, who would reunite in the ‘70s under far different circumstances.
For now, they knew when it was time to disband and let go of their dated sound, though not without a few final triumphs along the way. Six months later, Scott would find its way into the world, and the Walker Brothers’ legacy, by association, would never be the same.