My beads on a face
We hear the song anew: the orgasmic, caged-animal moans; the promise of “all the trembling vein that you can bear”; the possible, surely-he-wouldn’t “pearl necklace” pun of “Rosary”; and the final, giant aural signpost:
I kiss holes for the bullets
In case of thigh
A perfect Walker gag: On an album condemned to appear hopelessly intellectual, the grand finale is, in some dimension, the confession of an orgasm addict—a howling paean to misbegotten blow jobs and the lustrous drizzling of semen on skin.
Walker’s final lyrics in the Sundog book—all written towards the end of his life, and sadly unrecorded—wade further into filth: one “dildo-smacked cheek,” two erections (one “mighty,” one “vengeful”), a demand to “dump on me for money,” one “nipple-zit” (“sucked”), a “felch” made flesh, and a chorus of “Thrust to shove/Like my love.” You can peg Tilt as the first masterpiece of Walker’s elliptical era, but “Rosary” illuminates a less-documented path: away from the sugared, black-coffee existentialism of Scott 4 and toward an indecorous, Brel’s-eye view of the species.
Even without his Rabelaisian wit, his moral intensity, Walker would remain canonical—a North Star for failures everywhere. Listening to Tilt, letting that great hands and mouth pull me into the void, one thought keeps leaping out: What a relief that you can even do this.
But is it good? Allow me to answer a question with a ques—only joking. Yes, Tilt is good. Scarily, maddeningly good. It is like an old mansion full of haunted arcana: revolving bookcases, secret rooms, a golden pouf to perch on sipping ancient eau de vie. Even the easiest pleasures, like the stained-glass daybreak in “Bouncer See Bouncer,” arise from such obscure surroundings their beauty is always sudden, a second too quick for your defenses.
Then again, Tilt is not so good that you should lock it away in a trophy cabinet. It is an album you can listen to. A gravitational weight, yes, and bad company in crowds, but not all that inhospitable. He welcomes you to go in easy, trusting your imagination. You can internalize the sound cues, the rattling chains, the freighted blackouts and flickers. Or you can hunt for his passionate emotion, hidden but desperate to be found within the lyric sheet. Rummage for psychic flotsam, cross-examine the non sequiturs, reverse the verses, noun the verbs, discard what won’t fit, squint and twist and flip until an inkling—of maternal neglect, American hubris, or some other unutterable thing—shimmers into view, as if through a frosted window.
To intercept Walker’s signals can be brain-mangling work. You can lose an evening to it, head hitting the pillow full of flowcharts with things like “‘tooth fairies’” at the top and “incest?” at the bottom. You might find that work torturous. But I want to suggest it is just like the torture that made “The Electrician” sing: the lethally intimate zap, from the crank to the groin to the heart, that feels, for a second, like love.