Scott 2 stands out as a shining achievement of the poppiest era of Walker’s career and lays groundwork for the shifts just around the corner.
In the liner notes to Scott 2, Walker famously remarks that it is the product of “a lazy, self-indulgent man.” While that remains a somewhat apt understanding of his own work, as it is an album that shamelessly retreads and further commits to the construction and artistic concepts of its predecessor; however, coming on the tails of the successful Scott, Walker makes the most of his musical doubling down, and as a result, Scott 2 stands out as a shining achievement of the poppiest era of Walker’s career and lays groundwork for the shifts just around the corner.
Scott 2 is the bulkier version of Walker’s debut solo release – the albums are structured almost identically and the songs can be divided into the familiar categories of Jacques Brel covers, songs from films, old songs made new and Walker’s own work credited under his real name, Noel Scott Engel. Beyond the architecture, a lot of the sounds on Scott 2 feel similar. The intensely lush production and immense orchestra return to support Walker’s angelic voice. The film songs, “Wait Until Dark” and “Come Next Spring” are performed with the same vocal and instrumental grandiosity as on Scott. Walker includes another Tim Hardin cover on Scott 2 – this time he chooses “Black Sheep Boy,” which is nearly identical melodically to the Scott selection “The Lady Came from Baltimore,” but is just as welcome of an addition as its precursor.
Separations between Walker’s first two albums are defined more by deeper indulgences than by actual differences. The lyrical themes on Scott 2, from Walker’s own songs and those that he covers, are far more willing to discuss raunchier, uncouth subjects. Songs like “Next” and “The Girls from the Streets” don’t necessarily hold up to a contemporary political correctness check, and even upon the album’s release, some of these deeper forays into the dirt were met with some resistance. The single, “Jackie,” was initially banned by the BBC but found its way onto the charts regardless – used as the album opener, Walker’s version steps away from Brel’s jumpier, circus-y original with the added drama of the instrumentation and Walker’s chestier vocals giving some added weight to the song’s trip through opium dens, brothels and conversations on virility.
Outside the lyrical themes of sex, drugs and oft disregarded members of society, the songs chosen for Scott 2 feel like they have a little more energy behind them than those on Scott. So, while both of Walker’s first two solo endeavors feel as though they were cut from the same cloth, Walker’s second lap as a solo star has a bit more to be excited by, which might have helped in making Scott 2 the only one of his solo records to reach number one on the UK charts.
Despite Scott 2’s success, it still feels inextricably linked to his first album and the defining aspects of Walker’s unique version of pop stardom. Walker’s distinct decision-making as a curator is one of the main factors that set him apart from other golden-voiced lounge singers, and the fascination with songwriters like Jacques Brel and Tim Hardin and with cinematic scores should have served as a warning sign for listeners that if Walker was not already the world’s most interesting pop star, he was surely the heir apparent.
This marker of individuality is also present in Walker’s own compositions on Scott 2, as he interwove aspects of the dark and disturbed into his grand ballads. To a modern and knowledgeable ear, a song like “Plastic Palace People” seems to clearly show Walker’s trajectory as an artist. It starts beautifully with pleasant, light instrumentation and adds horns, light production and twinkling keys that would appear to be moving towards a typical, melodramatic, shmaltzy chorus; however, there is a turn and the familiar ripped away, leaving listeners falling into the crippling anxiousness that has been lying just under the surface, softly seeping into the lyrics, waiting for the correct moment to fully engulf the song.
Walker dives deeper into over-the-top production and controversial lyrical themes than on Scott. It is a subtle improvement on a previously established formula and a more captivating version of what came before it. In many ways, Scott 2 is a magnificent stagnation – a mostly lateral move that, with a little extra dash of vitality and grime, balances the dichotomous Walker’s late-’60s ambitions as both a crooning pop star and an absurdist, shadowy poet laureate of Europe’s alleyways.