Once upon a time an artist could have enough clout to earn their own show. Walker was still beloved as a pop star, even as he became more jaded.
“Scott Walker television series.” In 2019 it reads like a Lynchian nightmare for folks not quite being scared enough by “The Fall.” That or a late-late-late slot on Adult Swim when only the weariest space cadets are ready to get existential. But the absurdly titled Scott: Scott Walker Sings Songs from His T.V. Series proved that once upon a time an artist could have enough clout to earn their own show and that Walker was still beloved as a pop star, even as he became more jaded.
The simply named “Scott” aired on BBC during Walker’s self-described “wilderness years.” Released between Scott III and IV, T.V. Series was a collection of songs Walker performed on the show re-recorded in studio. Though Walker was already writing eldritch ballads like “It’s Raining Today” and “30 Century Man,” T.V. Series stuck to the refined and sterile. Even Walker’s treasured Jacques Brel is considered too experimental. Instead, Bacharach is slotted alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein. Though Walker’s critical and commercial acclaim were trading places, this was proof that the mass media consumers still had an ear tuned.
Not that Walker cared. T.V. Series is notoriously hard to get a hold of. Walker was utterly dissatisfied with the final product and didn’t bother to reissue it, and might have even discouraged his label, Philips, from ever touching the record. Johnny Franz, who discovered the Walker Brothers, produces here, giving extravagant flourishes of strings and waltzing pianos to every song. It is a sumptuous album, to a fault. The luxury on display, from the full orchestras casually thrown behind Walker to the pining melodies pilfered from old musicals, is overstuffed. Later that year, Walker would release IV and prove that he and Franz could use chamber tropes in a stunning fashion, but both of them knew the game. Schmaltz was the goal and guiding principle.
And any album with a cover of “The Impossible Dream” is automatically covered in cheese. The need for safety on display reigns in Franz and Walker’s finer qualities. Even the Dusty Springfield tune that winds up on T.V. Series is the Casino Royale soundtracking “The Look of Love.” Walker might have made something creepy and captivating out of “Son of a Preacher Man” but creativity was not the point. The songs are uniformly scored like a lesser Dionne Warwick record, never pushing their boundaries and polished to a placid finish.
Walker, to his credit, didn’t let any of the behind the scenes worries weigh down his performance. Simply put, there is no bad Scott Walker album when it comes to vocals. Though more subdued in both weirdness and power, his baritone croon is the warm, radiating center of every song. There is a fierce melodrama encasing the album and there are a few goosebump-worthy moments. His soaring performance in “I Have Dreamed” and the somber come down of “When the World Was Young” would have fit well on Scott I. But T.V. Series is damningly boring. In the midst of Walker’s true transformation into a weirdo, this album documents the shackles still holding him back from glory.