Dusting Off... The Walker Brothers' 'Nite Flights'
What is it?
Released in 1978, Nite Flights is the eighth and final studio album released by The Walker Brothers. However, if you are expecting the kind of blue-eyed pop melodies of their early work like 'Make it Easy On Yourself' and 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)', you'd better think again; Nite Flights is a totally different animal.
Despite the fact that none of them are English - or even brothers, for that matter – John Maus, Gary Leeds and Scott Engel, to call them by their real names, were considered part of the British Invasion, largely due to the fact that they were much more popular on British shores than in their native California. The Walker Brothers enjoyed an array of hits during the mid-1960s, led by Scott Walker's golden, baritone voice, but by the late 60s their brand of radio friendly balladeering was slipping out of fashion in favour of the more experimental sounds being churned out by the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead.
Although they continued making records on an 'on-and-off' basis over the next ten years, Scott Walker, the most artistically restless of the group, began to lose interest in the whole golden-boy-pop-star idea and began making a series of increasingly experimental solo albums, including Scott 2, during which he became obsessed with Belgian singer-songwriter Jaques Brel, whose translated songs make up much of the record.
With Scott heading increasingly down an experimental avenue and with a diminishing interest in making music on the grounds of commercial viability, by the mid 1970s it seemed unlikely The Walker Brothers would go back into the studio. In the meantime, the music scene had gone through several phases of genre popularity, with disco and then punk becoming the styles in vogue. Then, just as The Sex Pistols were taking the world by storm, John, Gary and Scott regrouped and recorded this.
Scott was always considered the leading creative force in the group, but The Walker Brothers were a democratic outfit and so each member contributes 4 songs to Nite Flights' 12 tracks. It is, by some distance, the darkest thing they ever recorded, but it's also so completely out of step with everything happening around them that there's this kind of palpable freedom to the record's sound, like they knew this was the last one they were ever going to make.
As such, Nite Flights is a very strange beast indeed. The lead single, 'The Electrician', is one of four Scott Walker compositions and is almost wilfully inaccessible, so much so that it failed to even chart. What's really surprising about Nite Flights though is just how funky some of it is. The opening track 'Shutout' twists and churns around a slithering disco bassline while other moments such as 'Disciples of Death' continue in a similar vein. The rest of the album is a real mixture of styles and experiments by all three members, leading critics to paint out that it does sound like three mini solo albums because if the way it was made, but there's an overwhelming sense of 'we're not cool, and we don't care' about the whole LP.
Why should I revisit?
Scott Walker has since gone on to make some of the most daring, challenging and pioneering music anyone in the realm of pop has even attempted, leading many to think of him as a sort of enigmatic, reclusive mad scientist character. His albums Tilt and The Drift have truly pushed the boundaries of what making contemporary music is and it's difficult to think of a more singular artist still working today. What makes Nite Flights really interesting is that it's an audible turning point in his career, leading him onto the beginnings of a path that he's been following ever since.
Who will enjoy it?
Fans of Scott Walker's solo work should find plenty to enjoy about this record and even those who are fans of late Doors albums like L.A. Woman will find some common ground here. Also, metal fans might want to take note; Scott has just finished recording and album with Seattle drone-metallers Sun O))), which is due to be released in September.
It might be too weird for some, but Nite Flights is a must-have for any fans of Scott Walker's uncompromising work.