Somewhat atypically for me, I'm reviewing this album after first hearing of Scott Walker on April 15 of this year. Although I'm not certain of the exact date that I first heard this album on, it wasn't more than a week ago, and given how I normally like to reflect on an album before I review it, I was somewhat daunted by how quickly I'd be able to review this, particularly if I simply couldn't find anything in this album to write about. My initial impressions of Scott Walker based on reading about him reinforced these fears. His musical career as part of the Walker Brothers (who were neither named Walker, or indeed brothers) was fundamentally unmemorable, consisting largely of cover versions and attempts to imitate other similar bands, with a lot of success in Britain, but not so much anywhere else. At the heart of the band, however, was Scott Walker himself, who was the undoubted creative linchpin of the group. While he was therefore the best suited of the band's members for solo acclaim, few could have expected that it would come in the manner in which it did. Between 1967 and 1969, he released no fewer than 4 solo albums (ingeniously entitled Scott
, Scott 2
, Scott 3
and Scott 4
, with his vocal style in the manner of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett contrasting oddly with his lyrics. These spoke with then unusual frankness about such family-friendly topics as male prostitution and semi-ironic eulogies to Josef Stalin. Particularly by the end of 1969, Scott 4
had seen Walker moving away from covering artists such as Jacques Brel, instead writing his own material. At this stage though, things started going wrong. His next 5 albums came between 1970 and 1974, meaning that Walker was as prolific as ever, but there's near universal consensus that these albums simply don't live up to the quality of his 1960s work. Worse still, over the next 20 years he released one album, Climate Of Hunter
. Coming in 1984, that was yet another disappointment. My point? By the time of Tilt
, if anyone still remembered Scott Walker, it was going to be for his work in a pop band that hadn't existed for nearly 30 years, and for a handful of quirky albums in the late 1960s.
It's important to understand a few things about Tilt
. First of all, forget everything I told you about his career up until this point. It's there purely to provide context for how out of left-field this album is. Secondly, even though it's undoubtedly the best thing that Scott Walker has worked on in decades (possibly ever), it's not going to be something that most of you have heard of. Even if you hear it, there's a very real possibility that not only will you not like it, but that you won't even make it to the end of the first track. Two albums that often seem to be compared to this are Nico's [URL=http://sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=2372]The Marble Index[/URL]
and Lou Reed
's Metal Machine Music
; two albums that are in turn synonymous with difficult, borderline unlistenable music. Personally, I wouldn't go that far. Unlike both Lou Reed and Nico, there's little argument that Scott Walker can indeed sing, although his voice certainly doesn't sound like most other artists. But if you want something like his early days of happy '60s pop music, then please, don't venture any further. There are only 8 songs on here, 7 of which last more than 5 minutes, and particularly in the middle section of the album, such as on the seemingly interminable Face On Breast
, you may well find yourself reaching for some light relief in the form of Diamanda Galás
or something similarly upbeat. Now that we've hopefully established the most important thing about this album, it's probably important to talk about what exactly creates this effect.
First and foremost, it's Walker's voice. I compared him to Frank Sinatra earlier on in the review, and it's not an empty comparison, either in terms of style or in terms of how talented he is as a vocalist. Although the music veers wildly between beautiful orchestral movements and juddering Nine Inch Nails
style industrial electronica, his voice is the one constant of the album, constantly shifting the mood of the music in ways that seem continually more unlikely. The opening song, Farmer In The City
, features probably the most calm, soothing performance on the entire album, and yet it's incredibly eerie at the same time. What's even stranger is the lyrical content of the song. Apparently it's a tribute to the murdered Paolo Pasolini, but reading the lyrics, centred around the motif of ,"Do I hear 21" would leave any reader in utter confusion. That feeling would only be compounded by the transition into The Cockfighter
, which is probably best described as someone singing goth-opera over a track laid down by Trent Reznor. In the midst of this nightmarish landscape featuring chugging metallic sounds comes Walker's voice, describing a cockfight, while singing excerpts from the transcripts of trials of a Queen, and of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (because when an album is already hellishly dark, there's nothing like Adolf Eichmann to bring a bit of humour). At any point in the song it sounds like you're merely a second away from one scream ending the music, with the nagging question being whether it's going to be coming from Walker or from yourself.
Although his voice is undoubtedly what lends Tilt
its unique feel, the little things on the album contribute greatly to the feeling of isolated unease. On Bouncer Say Bouncer
, the only lyrics that can be repeatedly made out are, "Don't play that song for me, you won't play that song for me", which would probably passes for a chorus in conventional music (if you're hoping for a verse/chorus structure, then forget it). Other than that, for the first five minutes, and then recurring again after a brief break are some quietly ringing bells in the background, which conjure up images of children quietly ringing them in the night. That's a pretty specific feeling, and one that draws attention to a rare aspect of the album. Unlike most other albums, even those which could be compared to this, Tilt
is a genuine experience, rather than merely an album. It's not something to listen to, it's something where you really have to lie back and let it wash over you, even though your better judgement is screaming at you not to do exactly that.
The same sort of feeling is present on virtually every track on Tilt
, but on Bolivia '95
it's taken to its most extreme level. Although on most songs here there are a few lyrics that you can make out without looking them up, on this song I literally couldn't make out any full lines without turning to google. Even when trying to describe what the music sounds like at times, the best I can do is somewhat melodious chainsaws, although a decent proportion of the song features just features percussion as the backing to Walker's croon. Along with the opening track, Patriot (A Single)
is the most accessible song on the album, with Walker showing off the full range of his operatic talents. It really can't be emphasised enough, that while we talk about remarkable voices within modern music quite regularly, that Walker truly is someone with a voice that falls so far outside the mainstream of modern popular music that it is, in every sense of the word, extraordinary. The combination of this and the fact that readily identifiable instruments actually appear on the song means that if you were to listen to any song on here as a standalone track, then this is probably the one that should be tried first.
Although the final two songs on the album are the two shortest on the album, Tilt
(the song) is particularly notable for the outstanding guitar work that is mixed with Walker singing ominously about "the buffalo". Rosary
is a good 2 1/2 minutes shorter than any other song on the album, and yet it manages to convey as much despair as anything else on the album. With it's final understated line of "I kiss holes for the bullets, and I gotta quit", it serves as a fitting bookend for Tilt
never exactly broke through into popular consciousness, among the music industry it's become something of a cult classic. Both David Bowie and Brian Eno have heaped praise on it, both for what it is as an album, and for the manner in which Scott Walker experienced a complete creative renaissance with the album. As an album, it utterly defies being placed in a specific genre, it bears comparison with some of the most difficult albums to listen to in modern music, although there is one crucial differentiating factor between this and albums such as Delirium Cordia
, namely the subtle beauty that exists at the heart of the record. Most people will never hear it, and of those that do, many will never like it. Even if you like it, as I do, actually giving the thing a rating will be a completely arbitrary exercise. But in terms of how it came out of absolutely nowhere alone, this has got to be one of the craziest albums I've ever heard.
Scott Walker releases his first solo album since Tilt (not counting film soundtracks) on May 8