4AD, the label on which Walker released his most recent records, confirmed the musician’s passing in a statement. A cause of death is not immediately known.
“For half a century, the genius of the man born Noel Scott Engel has enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of The Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality,” reads 4AD statement.
“Scott Walker has been a unique and challenging titan at the forefront of British music: audacious and questioning, he has produced works that dare to explore human vulnerability and the godless darkness encircling it.”
Though a native of Hamilton, Ohio, Walker enjoyed much of his success across the Atlantic. In 1964, at the age of 21, Walker, along with singer/guitarist John Maus and drummer Garry Leeds, moved the UK to pursue a career under the moniker of The Walker Brothers. Within a year, the trio had two No. 1 singles to their name — “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More” — while another song, “My Ship Is Coming In”, peaked at No. 3 in the UK. All three singles also cracked the Top 20 in the US.
By 1967, Walker’s interest in mainstream pop music waned. With The Walker Brothers’ early musical predominated with covers of traditional pop rock ballads, Walker sought to write his own music incorporating the “kind of rich, slow solitude in which imagination could flourish,” notes 4AD. Thus, Walker temporarily shelved The Walker Brothers and pursued a solo career, resulting in a string of self-titled releases including 1967’s Scott, 1968’s Scott 2, 1969’s Scott 3, and 1969’s Scott 4. Though the albums were well-received critically, their lack of commercial success led Walker to reform The Walker Brothers in the mid-1970s for the release of three additionally albums, including 1978’s Nite Flights.
Interest in Walker’s output was renewed thanks to the Julian Cope-curated compilation Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker, released in 1981. Three years later, Walker returned with Climate of the Hunter, an avant-garde collection of fragmented and trance-like compositions lacking either titles or easily identifiable melodies.
Though the album was again a commercial dud, Climate of the Hunter set the stage for Walker’s immense talents to be fully appreciated. He caught the attention of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who were attached to a follow-up album that was eventually shelved. The compilation LP, No Regrets – The Best of Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers 1965–1976, hit No. 4 in the UK, and in 1993 David Bowie covered Walker’s song “Nite Flights” on his own album Black Tie White Noise.
In 1995, Walker released Tilt, which was the first in a trilogy of acclaimed records that later included 2006’s The Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch. Simultaneously, he embarked on a series of high-profile collaborations, producing Pulp’s 2002 album We Love Life, sang alongside Bat For Lashes on 2009’s Two Suns, and collaborated with Sunn O))) on the 2014 LP, Soused. Most recently, Walker wrote and produced the score to the Natalie Portman-starring film Vox Lux.
Many contemporary musicians have credited Walker for influencing their own work. Reacting to news of Walker’s death, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke wrote in a tweet, “So very sad to hear that Scott Walker has passed away, he was a huge influence on Radiohead and myself, showing me how i could use my voice and words. Met him once at [Meltdown Festival], such a kind gentle outsider. He will be very missed.”
Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich added, “So very sad to hear about Scott Walker…. truly one of the greats.. so unique and a real artist. On my way to work on the first day of recording OK Computer I passed him riding his bike on Chiswick High Street.. and when I got to the studio Thom was holding a copy of Scott 4. I took that as a good omen.”
In his own tribute, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond wrote, “Absolutely saddened shocked by the death of Scott Walker . He gave me so much inspiration so much I owe to him and modelled on him even down to my early S C hair cut and dark glasses. He cemented my love for Brel. He was enigmatic, mysterious and with some of his latter recordings, to me, infuriating. An absolute Musical genius, existential and intellectual and a Star right from the days of the Walker Brothers. So many of his songs will go round in my head forever. And that Voice. We lost Bowie now we’ve lost him. There is surely a crack in the Universe. Thank you Scott.”
Revisit a selection of Walker’s notable songs below.