First comes the voice, a sort of cadaverous croon that circles around melancholy passions. Then comes the music, which traffics in disembodied guitar, sour strings, seething electronics, and, above all, space. Then come the lyrics. Scott Walker on the hanging corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress: "This is not a cornhusk doll / dipped in blood in the moonlight / like what happen in America."
The Drift is a high-minded album that sounds less like an album than like something that would occur onstage at a theater with very expensive tickets. Those familiar with Walker's work—which adopted a singular pop-theatrical lean in the '60s—are prepared for the extremes employed on his first album in 11 years. But The Drift throws out more of everything that Walker has ever hinted at. One section of "Clara," the song about Mussolini, finds Walker singing while punching a big slab of meat, which he saw in a butcher's window and thought might make an interesting rhythm instrument. It does. In "Jesse," he addresses the twin towers of 9/11 through appeals to Elvis Presley's dead twin brother, while echoes of "Jailhouse Rock" emerge and dissipate like slow-motion camera flashes. "Jolson And Jones" features an explosive spell of slaughtered pigs' squeals that might well be the most terrifying musical moment ever put to tape.
Some of The Drift is emotionally eviscerating; some of it calls for suspicious swoons and sighs. It's an album to be worked through more than listened to—and some of that work, no small charge, involves figuring out how to respond to songs laced with refrains like "I punched a donkey on the streets of Galway." It's unlikely that any other album will sound much like The Drift this year, and even less likely that it could be forgotten if heard even once.