Scott Walker’s voice sounds incredible over sighing strings and it’s the one thing that makes Any Day Now halfway redeemable.
Scott Walker’s voice sounds incredible over sighing strings. He knows this, we know it, and it’s the one thing that makes Any Day Now halfway redeemable. Of all the questionable, money-hungry people the singer found himself shacked up with in the studio during the ‘70s, he certainly had the best taste of any of them. When we hear Walker’s voice fly free into sweeping vibrato on the compositions by Anka, Bacharach and Webb that comprise the best songs on his 1973 album, we know it’s because he knows he’s making decent music, and it’s one of the few consolations he must have had during a decade defined by schmaltzy covers and contractual obligations. The subversion, the avant-garde impulses and the mordant wit inherited from his idol Jacques Brel are gone. The sound remains, and if you exorcise all context, Any Day Now sounds like it could be the work of a weirder, more vampiric Michael Bublé, a set of pipes you’d be happy to hear wafting through a Macy’s.
But as anyone who’s ever listened to The Disintegration Loops or a Daniel Johnston album can attest, context is a bitch. Any Day Now is one of four albums Walker made in the ‘70s that consist of covers. The story’s familiar: following the commercial failure of the towering Scott 4 and its intermittently great follow-up ’Til the Band Comes In, Walker was forced to renounce creative control and pay the bills as a standards-interpreting crooner. These records aren’t unlistenable; 1972’s The Moviegoer, in particular, shows a bit of moxie, and the decision to let the guy who wrote “The Seventh Seal” pick his own selection of film themes strongly suggests Philips Records hadn’t even bothered to pick up a copy of 4. But it’s easy to forgive a Walker fan for skipping them, in part because of their reputation and in part because Walker’s done his best to suppress them. Any Day Now isn’t available to stream, though some of its tracks are available on subsequent compilations.
That “Any Day Now,” “Do I Love You,” and “We Could Be Flying” sound pretty good must have been one of Walker’s few consolations. One of the others was drink, and he must have gulped down an entire handle of tequila after recording “Maria Bethania.” This is probably the worst thing to appear on a Scott Walker album. It’s a Caetano Veloso cover, and one can imagine Christopher Walken’s “more cowbell” character screaming from another room: “Sound more Brazilian!” Walker’s fake accent makes Don Henley’s Mexican affectations on “Hotel California” sound tasteful, and there’s no vibrato, no tone color, nothing to suggest someone isn’t holding a gun to his head in the studio. His performance is so stilted it’s even more painful than the accent. It’s not so much that “Maria Bethania” is awful as that Walker knows it’s awful, and it punctures a hole in any efforts to enjoy Any Day Now on its own terms. There’s no way anyone would record something like that because they wanted to, and inevitably, we ask the same question about everything else here.