Despite the humour that their handle seemed to promise, being named after some kooky American evangelist and all, the band Bob Tilton are an exceptionally earnest bunch of guys. In fact, every bit of their sound on their final recording, The Leading Hotels of the World, from the deadly dead sound of the drums, to the quiet tension broken up by loud guitars thing that structures nearly every song, to the pointedly mopey poetry-as-lyrics delivered by a rangeless Simon Feirn, to the flat sound of the trumpet played on the title track, was almost aggressively humourless. Now, while humour is not an absolute requisite for making a decent recording, if its not replaced by something like warmth, technical prowess or a some good old-fashioned rocking out, then the music sounds, well, earnest…and earnest is boring.
While they do make some noise on pretty well every tune, presumably after they have cranked up the emotional tension to the point that the fans just can’t take it any more, there is never any real abandonment. The problem is that they somehow convinced themselves that lyrics to rock music really matter, and that they should never turn up the volume, or play dirty enough to obscure lines like, “happy endings come undone, every smile unravelled / the failing light found me wishing you were here,” from Leading Hotels’ “He was a Lamb.” Heavy metal bands sometimes sounded that earnest, especially when they were going on about the devil, but they were just joking. Here no one seems to be laughing when, on “Run Horsey Run,” you come across clearly articulated lines like, “where you quench a thirst, one crooked dog finds / his likeness an unwelcome truth.” When I hear lyrics like that, I sure I’ve walked into the wrong hotel.