The Drift opens with a haunting repeated guitar riff and a gallop of drums, as Scott Walker croons pompous soundbites from imaginary reviews: 'a moving aria for a vanishing style of mind', 'a noble debut tackling vertiginous demands'. But accusations of Walker going soft by peddling humour are misguided.
Advancing years (he turned 63 in January), an extended break (his last album, Tilt, was released in 1995) and brief dalliances with younger upstarts (he curated the Meltdown Festival in London in 2000 and produced Pulp's last album in 2002) have seemingly left Walker's penchant for gothic gloom undented. The Drift sounds the way its dark-hued cover looks: a sound rising from scorched earth, bringing forth visions of morbidity and cruelty.
Take the macabre Clara - named for Claretta Petacci, the mistress of Italian wartime dictator Benito Mussolini - which muses about the way their corpses were hung up and abused in a public square in Milan in April 1945. As if Walker's comparison of this act with the lynchings in America's deep south weren't unnerving enough, the track is underscored by the noise of a slab of meat being punched.
The shrill malevolence that Walker's Joycean verse conjures - subjects hinted at range from the falling Twin Towers (Jesse, for Elvis Presley's stillborn twin) and genocide in Srebrenica (Buzzers) - is matched cue-by-cue by the anguished music.
At once cerebral and brutal, The Drift is like a virus, germinating and entrenching itself in the consciousness, never to leave.