Release Date: Aug 19, 2016
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Soundtracks, Stage & Screen
If ever there were a film made for a Scott Walker soundtrack, it’s The Childhood Of A Leader. Inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story of the same name, it tracks the early years of an effeminate boy called Prescott who is forced to live in France while his dad, played by Game Of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham, helps negotiate the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of US President Woodrow Wilson. In the process, though, what we’re actually watching are the formative years of a fascist dictator: one who lives in privilege and corruption thanks to his family, while being sexually infatuated with his teacher and rejecting authority figures on every level.
Across the haunting period between the two Great Wars, the aged composer Scott Walker exerts his lethal grip onto the presence of forlorn historical materials — an archive pulsing wildly with the foreboding nature of the over-coded State: fascism. During this roughly 20-year timeframe, a paranoid vector was structurally inscribed in the State-form developing after World War I. This is the stage for director Brady Corbet’s feature film debut The Childhood of a Leader and the site of Walker’s first O.S.T.
Got a hold of your happy thought? That’s the spirit. Now hold on tight because you’re going to need it. The Childhood Of A Leader is Scott Walker’s oppressive orchestral score for the film of the same name, and is likely to leave you feeling like you have been pulped. The film – loosely based on a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre – details the early life of a fascist leader during the First World War.
For music fans who haven't seen the film, the question as to whether or not the soundtrack holds as a standalone document is pertinent. Co-produced by Walker and Peter Walsh, the half-hour-long score was performed by a 62-piece orchestra of strings, winds, reeds, brass, and percussion, and conducted by longtime collaborator Mark Warman. After a brief, humorous "Orchestral Tuning Up," the listener is jarred to attention by rumbling cellos and violas in a repetitive, almost vampish pattern.
To call Scott Walker’s orchestral score for Brady Corbet’s debut film The Childhood of a Leader “invasive” would be an understatement. At points, it makes the There Will Be Blood soundtrack look like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Walker is responsible for the ominous, bow-shredding string figures and obscene woodwind bleats, but the young American actor/director Corbet—a familiar face from Martha May Marcy Marlene, the Funny Games remake, or, perhaps, 24 — claims to have lobbied for the mix to be raised “5% louder” than the theatrical standard.
His first solo work since 2012 Bish Bosch, Scott Walker's latest is his second foray into the world of soundtracks after 1999's Pola X. As with anything Walker has touched in the last few decades, there is a serious level of dread maintained from the very first 'Opening'. Even the preamble track of Walker's orchestra tuning, followed by the only voice heard on the entire OST – presumably Walker's own – has a creepy edge to it which never really lets up for this fair brief half an hour.
If you could assemble your dream band, who’d be in it? Personally, whilst the musicians change each time I put the line up together, the singer is always the same. It’s always Scott Walker. On his early records Walker sang like an angel and wrote words that were beautifully poetic. If I had to pick a favourite line it would be from “Duchess” on Scott 4, “With your shimmering dress, it says ‘No’, it says ‘Yes’, it says ‘I’ve got nothing left for conceiving.’” Walker could have been the biggest pop star on the planet in the 60s, but chose to follow artistic satisfaction rather than fame.
On its initial release in 1995, Tilt was regarded more as deluded final words than some kind of new beginning for an erstwhile Walker Brother. Spat out into a 1960s-obsessed British musical landscape by a bemused record label unable to devise any cohesive marketing strategy beyond a handful of WTF interviews and a guest spot for the artist on that bastion of forward-thinking avant-cultural principles, Later With Jools Holland. Scott dutifully if resignedly submitted himself to howling 'Rosary' from behind clamped-on shades, peering out from the corner gloom of a TV studio and resembling a haunted pale sliver of blasted devastation forced to jump through the promotional hoops one last time.