30th Century Man lets us see through the fog of Scott Walker (2006)

Scott Walker is up there with David Bowie as one of the most universally revered artists in popular music, and the hyperbole is hitting morto levels on the BBC this week with Proms: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) at the Albert Hall.

The performance, hosted by the BBC, features some of Walker’s most beautifully arranged pieces, performed with orchestral backing for the first time, and sang by Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Susanne Sundfor and Richard Hawley.

After listening to the impossibly lush arrangements and the tender treatments by Scott disciples, it’s worth watching the documentary 30th Century Man, to scratch the surface of Walker’s dark side.

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 01.45.25

This 2006 appraisal of the enigmatic Walker is a tale of two halves; his 1960s turn as a dandy pop star who somehow turned into one of the most uncompromising avant-garde artists of our time.

Over 90 minutes we see a startling transformation — from silver screen clips of the young Walker crooning ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine’, to 40 years later in the studio making a musician punch a full side of ham to evoke a mob lashing Mussolini’s hanging corpse.

The studio footage and interviews are taken from The Drift sessions, and in the intervening decade or so, Walker has continued this singular path, on albums Bisch Bosh and Soused — his album with drone metal act Sunn O))).

The doc gets a bit sycophantic as artists like David Bowie, Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker and Lulu sigh longingly as they’re played passages from classic songs, but I have to admit Scott has this effect on me too.

I went to see this in the IFI in Dublin at the time, and the studio scenes of ham-punching and dropping concrete blocks on wooden boxes gave me a right jolt of the fear. Watching on your laptop won’t be the same, but you’ll get a general idea with this YouTube rip with Spanish subtitles.

From the sublime to the grotesque: Scott Walker in 10 songs