Tim Bowness’s lavish praise of Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch was intriguing enough for me to give said album a go, and what a trip it is. I must confess right at the outset to not being too familiar with Mr. Walker’s earlier output, which in this case is probably not such a bad thing. Bish Bosch is a bizarre oratorio, an amalgam of musique concréte and Walker’s almost operatic voice, which hovers above a background of strange noises juxtaposed with orchestral and electric instrumentation. Hummable pop with catchy refrains this is not; don’t expect the DJ down the pub to give any of these tracks (not sure whether the epithet “song” applies here) a spin any time soon.
I am reminded of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, a dark ambient album which at the time was just about as far removed from the groups earlier, 80s synth pop output as you can possibly imagine. (There is a continuum, but it’s not readily apparent.) Another one is Peter Hammill’s opera The Fall of the House of Usher, which evokes a similarly oppressive mood, has likewise lots of recitative passages and, in general, is — as one would expect of a work based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe — a horror story set to music, although in this case the story is somewhat more obscure. I can imagine Bish Bosch working far better on top of visuals from The Shining than the infamous Dark Side of the Moon/The Wizard of Oz mashup.
Bish Bosch is one of those idiosyncratic magna opera where the wonder lies in not that it works so well, but that it works at all. Far be it from me to suggest any similarities between dancing bears and Scott Walker, though.