You might remember them as Scott 4, but it was as The Scott 4 Free Rock Orchestra that they released ‘E-S-P’, a record that flipped from electrofunk to chillout to weirdo reggae without missing a beat
For a wee while back there in the late 1990s, it looked like Scott 4 were destined for Big Things. They were certainly a cut above the post-Britpop mush of singer/songwriters and emotions-by-numbers indie outfits. Several cuts actually.
For those of you with poor memories, Scott 4 were a trio (ho-ho) from London named after Scott Walker’s fourth studio album (ho-ho-ho-ho). They made their debut in 1997 with the genre-smashing ‘Elecktro Akoustic Und Volkmechanic’ mini-album, where synths jammed with banjos (were you listening, Public Service Broadcasting?), played some tasty live shows (for which frontman Scott Blixen usually wore an oversized white Stetson), and drew positive comparisons with Beck and Stereolab. Nobody was surprised when they signed to a major label for their ‘Works Project’ set, which came out on V2 in 1999.
But just as those Big Things seemed within their grasp, Scott 4 disappeared. Just like that. Without even saying goodbye. Two thirds of the band, Blixen and Ed Tilley, briefly resurfaced in 2002 for a collaborative album with alt folksters Magic Car (the charming ‘European Punks’ on Tiny Dog Records), but then disappeared again for three more years. When they came back for a second time, it was with ‘E-S-P’, another Tiny Dog release. This wasn’t Scott 4, mind. This was The Scott 4 Free Rock Orchestra. And it saw Blixen and Tilley upping the electronic quotient and, with the help of Magic Car man John Thompson and the unrelated Graham Thomson, crafting something a little bit special.
Moving swiftly past the dreadful sleeve (however ironic the primitive design may have been), the eponymous opener sets the tone perfectly. Like around half of the tracks here, it rides an electrofunk bassline – sinuous, sinewy and utterly irresistible. If you didn’t know any different, you’d think this was a black American funk outfit from the early 1980s. In fact, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of the early Zapp albums. ‘Burn On’ and ‘Indie’ work up a similar vibe, while the companion pieces ‘Cosmos In Our Pocket’ and ‘Cosmos Jams’ ease back on the heavy synths, roll in some gentle breakbeats and sprinkle in some chillout powder. The results are quite Nightmares On Wax-ish.
‘E-S-P’ edges into more acoustic territory with the quirkily beautiful ‘I Am Mental’ and comes over all mutant reggae for ‘I Is For Understanding’, but the ease with which they swam between the musical pools was one of the things that always made Scott 4 such an interesting proposition. In this instance, the effect was uplifting and liberating and thoroughly delightful. Listening to it a decade on, it still is.
‘E-S-P’ turned out to be the one and only Scott 4 Free Rock Orchestra release, which is a shame but perhaps no great surprise given Scott Blixen and Ed Tilley’s track record. The word from Tiny Dog is that Blixen is alive and well and living in Sweden, where he’s recently finished recording an album of electronic music. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too many years to hear it.