It's somehow fitting that when Scott Walker got the deluxe box treatment, its track selection and sequencing were idiosyncratic and a bit perverse, much like his career itself was. For this five-CD, 96-track package doesn't follow the usual box set format of a roughly chronological progression through career highlights. Each of the five discs is devoted to a "theme": "bedsit dramas," "songs about women," "songs from Europe and America," music used in or inspired by films, and an enigmatic one titled "This Is How You Disappear," apparently devoted to his less commercial work. There's much good music here, from his Walker Brothers days to his relatively little-heard (and uncommercial) recordings of the 1990s. What might vex even committed Scott Walker fans, however, is the mix of material from what most connoisseurs would consider his golden age -- his dark, orchestrated pop of the late '60s and early '70s -- with his far less celebrated (at least sales-wise) post-mid-'70s endeavors, where he went down ever more avant-garde avenues in disco, electronic music, and unfathomably tortured art songs. It's safe to say that many fans of his more pop guise have little to no interest in the experimental stuff, and that even champions of his later out-there ventures might find the mood swings inherent in combining both phases unsettling.
In Five Easy Pieces is more listenable than this capsule description might imply, though, because the bulk of it is in fact devoted to his 1965-1970 recordings. These are the songs on which his legend rests, even as he would attempt to abandon their approach in subsequent decades -- the golden-throated croon, the lush orchestrations, the melodic brooding pop tunes (whether written by Walker or others), and the juxtaposition of pretty commercial arrangements with oft-dark lyrics about neurotic solitude, intellectual philosophy, and occasional perversion. "In My Room," "After the Lights Go Out," "Hero of the War," "Time Operator," "The Girls From the Streets," "We Came Through," "The Plague," and "The Seventh Seal" are just a few of the classics or near-classics from this period contained in this collection. The material spanning 1978-2000 (the 1971-1977 years are only lightly represented) is more quixotic, and at times downright harsh and unpleasant. It's nearly always original and faithful to Walker's cerebrally quizzical world view, though, and at times of noteworthy quality, like the ghostly late-'70s Walker Brothers reunion track "The Electrician"; the disembodied ballad "Sleepwalkers Woman" (from his 1983 Climate of Hunter); and his cover of Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away," from the 1996 film To Have and to Hold.
As for the little-anthologized rarities and obscurities that might entice Walker fans who already have a lot of the albums to check this out, there are some but not a huge number. Of most note are the soundtrack recordings, which make the "Scott on Screen" disc of this package (which also includes some songs that were inspired by movies, rather than actually used in soundtracks) in some ways the most interesting for those already familiar with much of his output. Foremost among those are the superb Ennio Morricone-like "The Rope and the Colt," from 1968; the cover of Neil Diamond's "Glory Road," from the 1972 film W.U.S.A.; and various 1990s soundtrack contributions that never got a wide hearing, from retro ballads to most of his contributions to the 1999 movie Pola X. On other discs, you get the nice 1971 B-side "My Way Home," and two reasonably interesting 2000 tracks by Ute Lemper that Walker wrote and co-produced, one of which ("Lullaby [By-By-By]") was only available on the Japanese edition of her Punishing Kiss album.
For all its quantity, however, In Five Easy Pieces manages to miss some of Walker's greatest work, whether because certain tracks weren't deemed to fit into the thematic concepts or for other reasons. Among the notable absentees are "The Old Man's Back Again" (from 1969's Scott 4), a solid contender for his finest original composition ever, and -- more troublingly to the more mainstream of Walker's fans -- any of his biggest hits with the Walker Brothers (even "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More"), which were perhaps considered too pop or normal for this set by Walker or someone else involved. The accompanying booklet, too, is a disappointment for those who count on lavish box sets to provide equally lavish liner notes, which are here limited to basic track listings and brief appreciative quotes from others (mostly musicians from bands that didn't launch until the 1980s or 1990s). So while there's much to dig into and appreciate, even treasure, in this music, ultimately it might be a better and more sensible investment to just go out and buy a bunch of Walker's best individual CDs to get the best and most comprehensive overview of his music.