Tilt is the project from Fish alumni Steve Vantsis and Dave Stewart plus guitarist Paul Humphreys and singer Paul Dourley, with contributions from Robin Boult and John Beck amongst others. They released an EP “Million Dollar Wound” way back in 2009, but “Hinterland” is their first full-length album. The earlier EP was a competent enough record, but never really set the world on fire. This one is a very different beast indeed.
It begins with the dreamy opening of “Assembly”, electronic atmospherics and an understated vocal slightly reminiscent of 80s Tears for Fears, except instead of breaking out into a big soaring chorus it leads into a dramatic instrumental section built around a spiralling guitar figure. “Hinterland”, in contrast, is a barrelling hard rocker with something of The Who in their prime about it.
“Against the Rain” and “Growing Colder” are emotive slow-burning ballads, while “No Superman” and the later “Bloodline” are very powerful groove-rockers build around Steve Vantsis’s propulsive bass riffs, the latter featuring a solo by John Mitchell. Another rocker, “Strontium Burning” has the sort of hook that gets buried in your head. The album ends with the book-end of “Disassembly”, the long dreamy opening echoing the opener before building into a big soaring ballad that brings the album to an impressive close.
Steve Vantsis has been the main co-writer on Fish’s recent albums, and there are places with a similar feel to those records, especially when it takes the riff and groove driven approach reminiscent of parts of “13th Star”. The songcraft and razor-sharp production is certainly in the same league. The layered arrangements with touches of electronica amidst the guitar riffs also recalls late-period Porcupine Tree.
But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer to Fish; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm. If anything it’s his vocal performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.
This is a record that’s been a long time in the making, but it’s proved worth the wait. 2016 has been a very strong year for rock albums, and “Hinterland” is another one to add to them.