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Music

How Scott Walker created perhaps the scariest song of all time

Scott Walker is one of the most accomplished and inventive composers of his generation, which likely explains why his career is best remembered for the risks taken in his personal trajectory. His body of work was not one done by instinct or necessarily tremendous impact, but searching. And it’s in this particular remit that we find his tune ‘The Escape’, which is one of the darkest and most sinister pop songs yet committed to record.

He admitted that he showed intense proclivities as a young man, which likely explains why his work was regularly laced with primal agony. ‘The Escape’ describes a car bombing in the Middle East, as a Jewish Rabbi watches a car going off, pre-empting the eventual invasion of a synagogue. The song details the war between Israel and Palestine, creating a sense of urgency and purpose, which is laced by the terror of the rise of terrorist attacks.

Walker witnessed many terrorist attacks during his lifetime, and he only had to flick on the television to witness a story about another bomb in Belfast, or another gunshot in Saigon. But the 9-11 attacks were a different beast, cornering the America he had loved and helped to build from the ground up.

His voice sounds frail on the recording, as if empathising with the lost souls in the track, but the backbeat is forlorn, fiery, frenzied, furious even.
One wrong move and the singer gets it. One right move and the audience gets it. Everywhere Walker goes, the air is crackling with electricity and potential danger.

And everywhere he lays down a hat, another soldier is there to put their weapon down. War, like pop music, never ends. It simply carries on to the next course of action. There is no finale, there is no curtain call and there is no sense of closure. There’s only cold continuance, and the determination not to make the same mistake again.

It’s not a pleasant world in Walker world, but that’s why Brett Anderson channelled it so completely on his 1994 opus, Dog Man Star. And it’s not an easy place to venture into, considering the manners and mania that war beckons. Walker was clearly no fan of war, as is evident from his weary vocal delivery on ‘Only Myself To Blame’, his depiction of an older James Bond worn out by the secrets and lies Her Majesty has instructed him to deliver.

And Walker could very well have been a method actor, such is the purge and intensity of his commitment to the worlds he built, whether it was the scene of a crime, or the exterior of a less furnished orbit for his inner spy to engage with. Walker’s vocals were always laced with a sense of pathos, making his death that bit harder to contemplate around the world. The James Bond producers rejected ‘Only Myself To Blame’, feeling that it was too depressing, but he had no one to hold him back for ‘The Escape’. But brace yourself – it’s a hard listen.