Country album fails to find clarity
Tilting: the act of attacking imaginary enemies. As Cervantesâ infamous storybook goon once made a whole lot out of nothing in Spain, Johnny Hickman feels it necessary to pick up the Donâs cross and have a go at it. But one cannot inject substance into a lifeless work through a title alone.
So whatâs in a name? Tilting by Johnny Hickman by any other name would smell as odious. The name might be trying to say one thing, but Hickmanâs album as a whole certainly does not say anything at all.
Where Don Quixoteâs insanity turned readers sympathetic and reinforced the characterâs likeability, Tilting, with its musical schizophrenia and vapid soul, secures no admiration for Johnny Hickman. Itâs mainly because of the obvious low production value of the album, Johnnyâs lack of direction and charisma and the many, many musical influences, which cause this record to sound like an amateur collection of other notable artists.
Tilting opens with âMeasure of a Man,â which promptly lures you into a false sense of security. The song starts in an intriguing way â lyrically introspective, instrumentally simple. Then the country guitars and slightly twanged vocals come in, cannibalizing any merits the song has. The subsequent addition of honky-tonk violins cement the song as poor karaoke fodder.
Itâs with the first track that we also encounter Hickmanâs lack of personal artistry. The first track oozes Bob Dylan lyricisms and musical stylings without ever recreating the storytelling magic that Dylan could so easily conjure. Later in the album, Hickman indubitably draws from The Whoâs classic rock sound, but not in a tasteful way.
The stylings donât hint of the singerâs admiration of the esteemed band; instead, Hickmanâs use of The Whoâs signature vocal and guitar mixes on tracks such as âDream Along with Meâ and the albumâs closer âAnother Roadâ demonstrates a lack of originality and talent.
With all the different artistic influences, the album has no clear-cut message or sound to convey, making Tilting a shaky, inconsistent listen.
From country to classic rock to pop-rock, it seems as if Tilting covers all the bases, even if the hodgepodge of genres feels off putting most of the time. If one were to decide in which genre Hickman sounds most comfortable, it would be country.
Now, thatâs not saying he excels in this area â almost none of the album is above par, for that matter â but Hickmanâs wannabe radio-friendly odes, reminescent of Fountains of Wayne and Oasis, sound dated and even more unimpressive. The trouble is that Hickman simply lacks the special flair that makes his music interesting.
On âDestiny Misspent,â Hickman croons lines like âin these bug-zapping hours before morningâ as if he drafted a Shakespearean sonnet. But with overtly simple lyrical storytelling and guitar work, the track sounds more like a mediocre open mic night from a college campus. Seeing how Hickmanâs connected to a group that has gone gold (Cracker), itâs difficult to understand his unexciting effort here.
One might think that the moderate success of Cracker would have given Hickman the leverage to finance a quality solo release. That said, Tilting simply sounds low quality.
The poor recording, production and engineering is blatant in songs like âNot Enough.â Here the art really suffers. Hickmanâs anti-ode to the U.S. would have been an interesting subversion of country musicâs often-stereotypical pro-America themes. Yet, because of the lack of high-quality production, âNot Enoughâ â and the rest of the album â falls flat.
After everything, can an album really be 100 percent bad? Tilting gets close, but âWhittled Downâ deserves a pause for consideration â itâs the only track on the album that has something to boast about. âWhittledâ shows off meaning in its strong use of metaphor and the lyrics and instrumentation, though simple, work because of clear, focused musical storytelling. Everything comes together on this track, and itâs probably the only time something feels complete and successful on this album.
After this high note, the album continues its downward spiral. âPapa Johnnyâs Armsâ is a weird musical number, egotistical and slightly creepy-sounding â if Hickman is trying to be Tom Waits, it isnât working out for him. One needs some major star power to successfully sing a song about how great they are without sounding arrogant, which isnât what happens here.
Tilting fails because it tries to tilt in too many directions. It doesnât help that Hickman doesnât have the will to balance 12 tracks without the whole album falling into oblivion.