Though it was and continues to be a divisive record among fans, Scott 3 is in many ways the quintessential Scott Walker album. It exhibits the point in Walker’s career when he decided he must turn to more serious music; as he put it, Scott 2 was “the work of a lazy, self-indulgent man,” featuring only four original cuts to go with the three from Scott and a handful that surfaced as single A- or B-sides and Walker Brothers material. Scott 3, to be pointlessly accurate, is 76.9% original, and tellingly pushes the three Jacques Brel covers to the bottom of the running order rather than the alternating format of the previous LPs. Luckily, Walker turned out to have the songwriting chops necessary to make this move, unlike any number of contemporary idols-turned-legitimate. Songs like “Montague Terrace (in Blue),” “The Plague,” and “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg” ranged from good to great and displayed eclectic sensibilities and richness of flavor.
Unlike its similarly experimental successor, Scott 4 (not counting the minor record Scott Walker Sings Songs from His T.V. Series), Scott 3 enjoyed a similar degree of success to Walker’s first two albums, though its songs were less congenial and even the Brel covers were moodier. The disenchanted “It’s Raining Today” is an excellent but unsettlingly dissonant piece of art that characterizes the album, “Copenhagen” a tribute to Denmark’s scenic capital. “Rosemary” deceives by appearing fairly minor, perhaps deliberately; its lyrics realistically portray a depressed youth who Walker either compares to himself or the storyteller: “That’s what I want/A new shot at life/But my coat’s too thin/My feet won’t fly.” The cavernous “Big Louise” is its contrapositive, being less nuanced lyrically but having a fuller sound while exploring nearly the same story. “We Came Through” is the odd man out, charging out of the gate to break the stillness. It can be a breath of fresh air when the LP is played in order, but its lyrics are somewhat overly broad. “Butterfly” is a pleasant yet prosaic vignette.
“Two Ragged Soldiers” is Walker’s masterpiece this time around, depicting two tramps who may be homosexuals, though this is not explicitly confirmed; Walker borrows a turn of phrase from Virginia Woolf (either in regard to A Room of One’s Own or more likely The Lady in the Looking-Glass) to say, “They spoke transparent phrases to looking-glass women,” indicating that the soldiers—which is not to say they are actually soldiers, as Walker presents those words as a simile—are superficial in their interaction with the opposite sex; “Sometimes passions in winter turned to cold soundless moments” and the continual theme of turning to fantasy (which in this context would mean that their lives together can only be fantasy in an age when homosexuality was not wholly accepted) combine with the sorry line, “Good mornings to faces who just turned away,” to paint a somber portrait of outcasts.
The slight, affable “30 Century Man,” which has become one of Walker’s most enduring songs, sees the singer waxing folk as he sings outside linear time: “Shame you won’t be there to see me/Shakin’ hands with Charles de Gaulle.” It is also one of his few unaccompanied songs from the period. “Winter Night” is possibly the only truly pointless song on the record, basically existing only to heavy-handedly point out that Scott 3 is a winter album. “Two Weeks Since You’ve Gone” is a middling iteration of a common Walker thread seeing the end of a friendship or relationship soon after the point of separation. The three Jacques Brel covers, “Sons Of” (“Fils de…”), “Funeral Tango” (“Le tango funèbre”) and “If You Go Away” (“Ne me quitte pas”) are agreeable, faithful renditions.
Scott 3 was the black sheep of Scott Walker’s four numbered LPs. Five of Walker’s ten originals clock in at under 2:30, which gives it a fragmented feeling similar to Low by devotee David Bowie eight years later. That does not detract from their quality, but it makes for a jarring listen sometimes, especially considering the many layers of melancholy. It’s transitional, relying on a few covers to fill space while Walker found his muse, and his vision would be better realized on Scott 4 to follow, but Scott 3 is nonetheless a rewarding work with flashes of brilliance.