The camera pans through tendrils of cigar smoke, following the rising bubbles of a champagne flute held between gnarled, lead pipe fingers that wear sovereign rings like washers. We are ringside for an amateur fight, somewhere like the Alexandra Palace in the mid-nineties, surrounded by old East End hardmen in penguin suits. This is the stunning opening gambit of Paul McGuigan's Gangster No. 1, and Neil Hannon is employing his best mid-Atlantic croon to warble The Good Life over the clatter of soup spoons and rib-cracking jabs. Malcolm McDowell's nameless lead character is an immoral, childlike murderer and violent mobster. The scene drips with grotesque affluence. The soundtrack seems to exemplify everything that is most deplorable in criminal society - opulence born of sadism; riches backed by fists. The overbearing modern representation of the crooner is that of talented stooge ol' Frankie blue eyes stuffing his pockets with loot, partying with the mob's top brass.

There aren't many genres of 20th century music that feel less relevant today than big band jazz. The glitzy, vacuous product was always an easy sell, and remains so thanks to modern blowhards like Harry Connick Jr and Michael Buble. The old standards like Come Fly With Me and Unforgettable get wheeled out and defibrillated, the same tired arrangements re-recorded and hailed as 'brilliant re-imaginings'. The whole thing carries the unmistakeable scent of formaldehyde. It is endlessly popular at Christmas.

Perhaps then, now is not the best time to reappraise the early solo work of Scott Walker. The Collection 1967-70 brings together Walker's first five solo albums following the break-up of his massively successful partnership with John Maus under the jointly assumed alias of the Walker Brothers, during which he seemed at first to embrace, and then slowly begin to struggle against the pin-up image he had been lumbered with by a worshipful mass audience. By the time of Scott 4, he had reverted to his birth name Noel Scott Engel in an apparent attempt to entirely divorce himself from his former image. The album bombed spectacularly. Its follow up, Til the Band Comes In has been unfairly ripped apart by the man himself. This is a collection divided against itself.

Being not over familiar with Walker's career path, it is a dizzying body of work, which sensibly draws a line between early Scott and mid-career, wilderness years Scott. The classics (covers of Brel's 'Jackie', 'The Big Hurt', '30 Century Man') sit alongside over syrupy covers of Bacharach / David and the increasingly off-kilter, self-penned work that characterised Scott 3. Similarities in career trajectory could be made with Tom Waits, but the progression from his Closing Time to Small Change is much more straightforward than that of Walker, whose voice development is barely noticeable up until 1970.

The very finest moments are very fine indeed. The swirling, troubled strings of 'It's Raining Today' from Scott 3 will be familiar to fans of Radiohead's How To Disappear Completely and represent a high point in Walker's output. The same album also offers the first embryonic suggestions of his fascination with Radiophonic Workshop-style sound effects, as shells explode around the outro of 'We Came Through'. Scott 4 offers more of a road sign to the Country-fide wilderness years than the later, broad spectrum Walker of the 80s and later. Lyrically, Walker drops the odd overripe clanger every now and then, but the genius of 'Funeral Tango' more than compensates.

At his greatest moments, particularly on Scott 3, Walker transcended the pretty boy image the industry had cultivated around him, and through sheer artistic force of will broke from the trappings of croonerism and MOR. The development through these first five albums is not as steep as you'd think, but even in their weakest moments they are gorgeously arranged and performed. The rich, bell-like chiming of Walker's stanzas tie even the most curious elements together to some extent. Now may not be the ideal time to reappraise Mr Engel's output which is, after all, still developing. It's always a pleasure to indulge a little.