Review Summary: city symphony
The clue to unlocking Scott Walker's Tilt is in the song titles and before that the album title itself. One can incline a bookshelf so it tilts: perhaps it's the resulting crash of hardbacks that yield the muffled crash, seeing out The Cockfighter. One can tilt at windmills, a la Don Quixote, as I may be doing now, but these are the risks we bear when we tackle work as arcane as this. Or -- and this is crucial -- you can simply tilt your head. Pick an angle and rotate and incline as necessary; do what I did as a child and face your head off the edge of the bed, imagining what it would be like to walk on the ceiling. It's a simple way of re-orienting perspective, of how the world looks and, more importantly, exists.
Tilt is a city symphony, a rendering of a metropolis in hues blacker than ink and equally likely to cause permanent staining. Instead of travelling through tourist spots, high-rises and gainful employment Walker focuses in on an underclass and the marginalia. The Farmer in the City inverts the usual "country boy making it in the big apple" with it's mournful refrain of "do i hear 21, 21, 21 / i'll give you 21, 21, 21", a kind of grim paronomasia with about 21 different meanings to parse, none of them particularly cheerful. For your consideration: if the protagonist of the song is 21, is he being financially exploited? is everything a seemingly incoherent, dehumanised market exchange? if the song is based on a love poem Passolini [side-note: my god would he have been owned by #metoo] wrote to a 21 year old beau, referencing the age he enlisted in the army and saw war -- and if so, the analogy between the war and the city is particularly troubling. Bucolic strings tug at the heart-strings throughout, but so distant from Walkers disconsolate croon as to cross continents. "Can't go by a man in this shirt. Can't go by a man in that shirt" Walker briefly intones, almost as if he's reminding himself of an invisible etiquette. The line -- one of the few he intones casually -- is all the more wrenching for it.
Elsewhere we spend time with cockfighters; witness a fight between bouncers; run through a list of poorly-pronounced nationalities working for tips in Manhattan; dip into displaced latinamericans and those in exile. Walker may dress the album up with recondite literary and cultural references (including about 21 made alluding to Beckett) , but he never deviates from focalising his point of view from the displaced, the lost, the damned, the irrecoverably ***ed and the futureless. A lot is said of the bleakness of the album, and it is, but it's also bitter, as jaded as a Chinese art exhibition (eheheh). Walker's voice, an astonishing instrument capable of conveying a range of emotional turmoil with minor inflect, kind of just peters out towards the end until he just succumbs: "i just gotta quit".
There's a kind of melodrama in this obviously, and the music -- made to sound as antithetic to Walker's previously favoured country-pastoral as possible -- combined with a more morose focus represents in his timeline a kind of confirmation of previous aesthetic as it broaches new ones. I think it's fair to say that Walker, vaguely reclusive and appearing only upon the mount when we call upon him, probably romanticized the rural small town in a mix of heady nostalgia and contemporaneous irritability and demanded something of them they cannot provide. Small towns kind of suck too. But that doesn't diminish his point: there is nothing as alienating, as cruel and as soul-splintering, as living and giving unto a city to which you do not belong and where you are not sanctioned. Where the album succeeds is its focus on people, no matter how unpleasant: in the way the strings and industrial clamour war with each other until they both burn themselves out leaving only Walker's powerful, broken voice; in a musical invocation of despond that aligns with what I assume to be The Point. Sure there are 50 pointless allusions too many (we get it dude u read big b00k and listen to opera) but then, without them, would we have the ambition that caused this album to be fomented in the first place?
I think when people say this album is experimental or difficult or whatever they're exaggerating that point: what I mean when I employ those terms is that it's profoundly discomfiting, not because it's too alien, but too native. I don't live in, in the grand scheme of things, a particularly large city, but I know I have access to other worlds that exist in between parallel alleys, concentric circles of culture and commerce, a labyrinthine crochet of twisting streets taking nourishment from smaller twisting streets like a infrastructural russian doll.
All I have to do is tilt my head.