Scott Walker: Tilt

Scott Walker
Drag City

IN 1929, SPANISH symbolist-poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote, "Look at the concrete shapes in search of their void/Lost dogs and half-eaten apples/Look at this half-eaten fossil world, with its anxiety and anguish/a world that can't find the rhythm of its very first sob." On Tilt, avant-gaudy balladeer and Lorca-devotee Scott Walker reaches deep into the pit of the universal soul-spirit and finds that rhythm, and that sob.

After achieving very marginal success with his stateside band the Walker Brothers, Ohio-born Walker landed in Belgium for a late '60s careen into cabaret. In a daring rescue from obscurity, Knitting Factory cognoscenti took critical praise of last year's Crenshaw-compiled Scott Walker anthology as a tease to issue a new set of Walker lamentations. Though rock-mag readers may (mis)hear Tilt as a Phantom of the Opera sans hooks, reviewers have been ostentatiously proving that they understand Scott's esoteric Europhile references and love his baroque song-poems.

Walker journeys through dark mindscapes, coaxing dread by ghouling over gamelans and car alarms tripped by foghorns. In "The Cockfighter," unintelligible muttering bursts into Reznor-esque laceration, then pours into a stifled melody that recalls a pensive Peter Gabriel. "Bouncer See Bouncer" finds Walker pleading with an insistent (inner?) DJ, "Don't play that song for me," over the sounds of floorboards knocking. Then he moves toward a receding threshold, never catching more than a glimpse of open space.

Tilt is soaked in Le Continent. Brit and Yank crooners like Bowie and Buckley have always known the whine is of a finer vintage than the moan Walker wallows in. But Scotty's histrionic rasps to filmmaker Pasolini and hero Lorca betray a unique indignation--at the injustice of the anti-homosexual murders of both?--that sounds so rights-conscious that it almost comes off as soulfully American.

With symbolist imagery and situationist audio-poetry mainstreamed into music videos, it's tough to find an edge to live on. And when weak avant pop-prose on a Tool song about a ditch-side serial killer passes for experimentation, even a devout obscure-phile can't afford too much subtlety. As a primer for symbolist back-to-schoolers, Tilt may be a four-star must; but, as you might have guessed, you don't need to go out and "get it" to, you know, get it.

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