In 2012 on 4AD records, Scott Walker released the final album in his trilogy of ‘Tilt’, ‘The Drift’ and then ‘Bish Bosch’. Another album ‘Soused’ would be the truly final album before his death in 2019, but this was a collaboration with metal/sonic experimenters Sunn O ))).
I purchased this CD when it first came out in 2012, listened to it once, never really engaged with it, put it to one side in my ‘Scott Walker’ section and thought no more of it until last week. Then, for reasons totally obscure, I decided to listen it again and was somewhat astonished by what I heard. I have always been a fan of Climate of Hunter, Tilt, and broadly The Drift but not this one – and I do wonder why.
The thing that stood out clearly this time was that this is no album of songs. This is a work, a piece, a canvas – something broader, more detailed with its harsh logic. Why is the album called ‘Bish Bosch’? Obviously I cannot for certain know the ‘truth’, but my speculations would lead me to think on the idea that this is clearly Scott Walker’s most perfect album – in achieving what Scott Walker was attempting to achieve all along. Paring everything down, away from songs, away from song structures, deeper but more abrasive, approaching a world of sound, of sense, of impression – moving from one place of texture to the next, much like a painter would across the readied canvas. And this balance between lyric and sound – the intersection that makes the painting – so spare and yet so complete – this was where he hit that most perfect sound at the close of his trilogy.
And yet there are plenty of strange moments and periods when you think of one critic’s famous phrase – ‘there’s humour here, but not as we know it’. We have the scatological sounds of musical flatulence (on an album!) against high art references, and a lyric writing that is so clearly informed by the European imagination and Modernist literature – all this is a case of sitting the mundane, the physical, the disgusting, the comic, along side the elevated sense of melody and spiritual distress that echoes in ourselves.
It carries a few classic Walker lyric lines – ‘Plucking feathers from a swansong / a cobweb melts within a womb’. ‘Pain is not alone / Pain is not alone.’
Perhaps this then is the key – Bosch, if we jump a little through culture, could be a branch catching our sight as we gaze back to the medieval grotesquerie of a certain Hieronymous Bosch. That coupled with the ‘Bish’, which is a moment of pure sensation – lyric and sound coupled together, with motifs of melody eerily reappearing in new formations again and again – this ‘bish and the bosch’ could be pure impact, sensation, and sound with a long line of not so heavenly human disgust trailing long behind us.
Up to you to find out.