No Regrets is the first of a string of Walker Brothers albums that would importantly loosen Scott’s creative reigns.
Part of a grand retrospective of Scott Walker’s decades-long career is the inevitable conclusion that the string of releases between Scott 4 and Climate of the Hunter isn’t the complete pile of steaming garbage that contemporary critical discourse would have you believe it is. The greats are the greats for a reason, and Walker’s pop-oriented ’70s albums do have a lot of duds, but there’s a healthy bit of gold to sift through as well. Especially for the listener who doesn’t have an immediate gag reflex to the soft sounds of AOR, The Walker Brothers’ “comeback” album No Regrets is something of a forgotten, albeit imperfect, gem.
The album’s first side contains five tracks of soft-rock perfection. The opening title track is understandably one of the group’s biggest hits, more or less copying the quiet storm-inspired orchestral pop format of songwriter Tom Rush’s 1974 version (off of Ladies Love Outlaws). Though the structure and sound is similar, little can ever match Scott at his best, and his disaffected baritone is perfect for the track’s good-feelings breakup message. His barely-there southern twang retains the casual nature of Rush’s original while further imbuing it with a knowing snarl, a sort of “told you so” to the song’s romantic subject.
This sense of ease – both lyrical and musical – permeates side A’s remaining four songs. The most notable cuts are the Scott-led “Boulder to Birmingham,” an Emmy Lou Harris–penned gospel-country number that explodes into a revelatory hook, as well as the album’s most upbeat number, “Walking in the Sun.” It’s one of the few songs on No Regrets sung by John Walker, placing his lighter, more nasally voice front and center as he gives thanks to good fortune after years of struggle atop a breezy, pop-blues instrumental. These first five songs look at trouble (romantic, financial or otherwise) and grin in perseverance, a thematic reassurance that feels right at home in the oeuvre of mid-’70s rock and soul (Carole King, Rufus, James Taylor, etc.).
Unfortunately, the album’s second side takes a serious dip in quality, featuring too many ballads and a few misguided deviations from the album’s core format. After the nocturnal and somber “Lover’s Lullaby” closes side one, the slow pace of “Got to Have You” and “Everything That Touches You” feels tiresome. No Regrets closes on “Burn Our Bridges,” the album’s closest callback to the wall-of-sound grandiosity of the Walker Brothers’ ’60s work. It’s both a foil to the sleepy ballads that surround it and a reminder of how powerful Scott can sound atop a these Spector-esque soundscapes.
In the middle of all this phoned-in weepiness lies the group’s rendition of “He’ll Break Your Heart,” which is one of the more sickly and abysmal white-boys-do-reggae efforts out there. The groove is fine enough, and its understated trombone lines bounce of the airy synths in a pleasant fashion. The vocal lines, however, are stiff, lifeless and repetitive. None of the grinning carelessness of the album’s earlier songs is present, and instead an immense awkwardness pervades the track – saying nothing of the track’s unbearable five-minute runtime. If the distaste for these ’70s Walker-affiliated releases in part comes from the group’s lack of experimentation, “He’ll Break Your Heart” is a sign that not every radical road is worth taking.
No Regretsis the first of a string of Walker Brothers albums that would importantly loosen Scott’s creative reigns (both self-imposed and outwardly dictated). His avant-garde leanings would slowly reemerge in the coming years, but the shining, immaculately produced pop found here is a welcome stepping stone along this path. While we all love him when he’s growling about torture or perversity over dissonant string quartets, Scott Walker isn’t too bad at levity, either.