The ’60s pop icon changed course after the Walker Brothers and enjoyed a legendary second life as an avant-garde pioneer.
Scott Walker—the ’60s pop icon, composer, and avant-garde pioneer—has died, his label 4AD announced in a statement Monday morning (March 25) and confirmed to Pitchfork. He was 76. His cause of death has not been revealed. Walker’s career was a storied one. He started as a session musician, made huge hits with the Walker Brothers, became the object of screaming teenage fans’ adulation, and, later in life, became an enigmatic pioneer of dark and experimental avant-garde.
Walker was born Noel Scott Engel in Ohio. He earned a reputation for his distinctive baritone as a 13-year-old with his single “When Is a Boy a Man.” In 1965, he moved to England and began recording with the Walker Brothers, whose song “Make It Easy on Yourself” went No. 1 in the UK and Canada. After they released “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” reports emerged of crazed fans swarming the group and toppling their car as they sat in it. In 1967, the pop sensation burned out, and Walker released the first of four solo albums, all titled Scott.
Walker’s early solo success, spearheaded by covers of Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel, granted him greater creative autonomy, and in 1969 he released Scott 3, his first record comprising more original songs than covers. Its left-field compositions slowed sales, which drastically fell with the ambitious Scott 4—later reappraised as a masterwork. Walker changed course, releasing a string of cover-heavy records. In 1975, he reformed the Walker Brothers and released three more albums including 1978’s Nite Flights, which features outré Walker compositions such as “The Electrician.”
After Nite Flights, Walker disappeared from view for six years. In the meantime, Julian Cope expanded Walker’s cult with a compilation, Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker. With his comeback album, 1984’s Climate of Hunter, Walker established a vanguard position he would occupy until his death. His next record, 1995’s Tilt, ventured further beyond pop’s extremities. Up until the late-’70s, he had released almost an album a year; from this point on, it was closer to one every decade. Live performances were virtually nonexistent.
Several minor releases peppered his output—a soundtrack for the Leos Carax epic Pola X, collaborations with singer Ute Lemper—but his next album was 2006’s The Drift, a desolate masterpiece characterized by oblique lyrics, idiosyncratic rhythms, discordant compositions surrounded by vast audio space, and Walker’s shrill siren of a voice. One song, “Jesse,” simultaneously addressed 9/11 and the stillbirth of Elvis Presley’s twin brother. The documentary 30th Century Man accompanied the record’s release, complete with scenes of Walker’s band beating meat flanks for percussion, with David Bowie, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn, and others extolling Walker’s praises.
His final releases were 2012’s Bish Bosch, his 2014 collaborative album with Sunn O))), Soused, and his 2016 score for The Childhood of a Leader. In 2018, he wrote and produced the score for Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux, featuring Sia. He is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and his partner Beverly.