In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: songs by real or fake siblings.
The Walker Brothers were brothers in name only—a band name adopted by the non-related Scott Engel, John Walker, and Gary Leeds because it seemed like 1960s audiences would respond to it. They were right about U.K. audiences at least, where The Walker Brothers were a return volley to the British Invasion: a group of nattily dressed Los Angelenos who topped England’s charts and riled their own fervent teenage fan base with darkly romantic ballads. While singles like “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” brought The Walker Brothers fame, they also brought them all the trappings of fame, with the pressures to replicate early success causing the greatest strain on Engel, the band’s most temperamental—and genius—voice. Fortunately, after years marked by depression and some soul-searching in a monastery, Engel channeled those frustrations into a solo career as Scott Walker, releasing albums that delved into Jacques Brel-inspired chanson and country. But when Scott Walker lost his way again, he sought refuge by reuniting with his fake family.
By the time of their sixth and final album, 1978’s Nite Flights, The Walker Brothers were pretty much The Walker Brothers in name only. The record is split into three sections, one written and led by each member. And unsurprisingly, it’s Scott’s contribution that has the most lasting impact. “The Electrician,” the final single ever released under The Walker Brothers name, bookends an arc with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” that mirrors Scott’s own descent into ever-deeper darkness. Forget being saved by love from this sort of loneliness. “There’s no help, no,” Walker intones in his ominous, yet oddly seductive baritone, painting a no-escape torture scenario that limns the thin line between sex and death with jarring phrases like, “If I jerk the handle / You’ll die in your dreams.” Walker’s coolly delivered threats are answered by an equally relentless drone of horror-movie synthesizer, which eventually gives way to dreamy strings and flamenco guitar. (It’s a progression so cinematic in its blurring of romance and violence, it’s little wonder Nicolas Winding Refn chose it to soundtrack 2008’s Bronson.)
“The Electrician” pointed the way toward Walker’s increasingly avant-garde future albums like Climate Of Hunter and Tilt—and, if Brian Eno’s assertions in the documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man are to be believed, it still sets a standard for experimentalism that modern pop music has yet to surpass. Though the song finds Walker all alone, it took Walker’s family, however imaginary, to give him the space to create it.