The final years of Scott Walker’s musical career were defined, however loosely, by collaboration.
For an artist that felt entirely individual, the final years of Scott Walker’s musical career were defined, however loosely, by collaboration. He worked with Sunn O))) on 2014’s Soused, and twice with director Brady Corbet, scoring The Childhood of a Leader in 2015 and finally, Vox Lux in 2018. The film centers around the life and career of a pop musician, played primarily by Natalie Portman, as she deals with the traumatizing childhood event that led her to write music, her cultural impact and personal issues as well as fame and motherhood.
If you’re a fan of Walker’s, the premise that the only vocals on his final project are being provided by Sia and a choir might feel a bit off-putting. Even more so when you realize that Sia isn’t even singing over any songs Walker wrote and that all there is to say goodbye to such a legendary voice is roughly 30 minutes of a musical score. Vox Lux’s soundtrack in its full form then is essentially a split release from Sia, who wrote all of the songs performed by Portman in the film, and Walker. The songs provided by Sia, unfortunately, feel like off-brand attempts at writing her own songs, with “Wrapped Up,” presented twice, being the only cut that is really worth anyone’s time. This being the case, it is fortunate that the two halves really do not interfere with one another at all, and the composition of the release itself becomes a commentary on a dichotomy between the external flamboyance – performance and entertainment – and internal distress and unease of a “pop star,” an apt theme given Walker’s history.
While only a brief offering, Walker is able to create a fairly expansive feeling by taking cues from his entire career and making somewhat of a tapestry of sounds present throughout his discography. “Opening Credits” features deep, cinematic strings reminiscent of the first moments of “Farmer in the City” and are then built upon with a haunting chorus and subtle, but piercing electronics. “Anthem” marches with a similar tenacity as the Scott 2 opener “Jackie” before swiftly moving into the shimmering, melancholic “Yearning” that brings to mind Scott 3.
Then, beginning with “Terrorist,” the score begins to take a much more unsettling turn, moving into the darker facets of Walker’s oeuvre. The droning vocals of the aforementioned “Terrorist” and the abrupt shift into a shrieking dissonance point towards Walker’s later, more abrasive albums like Tilt, The Drift and even Soused, that so well balanced and explored the contrast of beauty and harshness. “Druggie” is the only song in Walker’s score that features lyrics – a children’s choir sings a “Ring around the Rosie”-like nursery rhyme over plucked strings and flutes that is at once unnerving and gorgeously delicate.
While it seems somewhat fitting that Walker’s final musical act focused on the interrogation of a pop musician, Vox Lux ultimately feels like an unceremonious end to maybe the most unique, intriguing musical career arc of the 20th and 21st centuries. In an era that saw the passing of so many heroes: Bowie, Cohen, Berman, all of whom were able to say goodbye with some of their most vital projects, it’s a shame we never got a definitive, final statement from one of music’s most singular voices. However, after listening through all of his work and reading through all of the pieces written about his music on this site over the past handful of months, there is no doubt he gave us all way more than enough.