Monday, May 17, 2010


Titus Andronicus’s first album “The Airing of Grievances” mixed Camus, Shakespeare and Bruegel with high-octane alt-rock to thrilling effect. The follow-up from the band from Glen Oak, New Jersey is no less ambitious.

According to lead-man Patrick Stickles “The Monitor” is a concept album about the American Civil War. Between songs there are spoken interludes featuring the words of Civil War-era historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman; and the album’s title is the name of the first ironclad warship. Despite these references and readings however, the album “The Monitor” seems more concerned with contemporary themes of strife and despair – see the song ‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’: “is there a girl in this college who hasn’t been raped? Is there a boy in this town that’s not exploding with hate?”

Photo by Eric Hess on Flickr

As with “The Airing of Grievances”, this album is undoubtedly a rock record bringing punkish anger and despair, loud fiery guitars, and a rousing epic sound to each of its ten volatile and sprawling songs. Stickles’ vocals are a lot clearer and foregrounded more effectively on this record (on the first the lyric booklet was often a necessary listening companion) so not only are the words he is singing more easily audible so is his roaring anguish and fury. His role as wasted loser front-man, sounding rowdy or brittle or even both together, is one of the highlights on this record. At times he reminds me of that great chronicler of alcohol-fuelled self-despair Paul Westerberg of The Replacements: “I’m as much of an ass-hole as I’ve ever been / There is still nothing about myself I respect / I haven’t done anything I’ve not lived to regret” (‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’)

As well as a more confident use of his vocals, the album is a more ambitious move on from “The Airing of Grievances”. That’s not to say songs on their debut lacked ambition in song length or literary and artistic allusions (sample title:’Upon viewing Bruegel’s “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus”’). But “The Monitor” moves this forwards in a great leap – first single ‘Four Score and Seven’ nearly clocks nine minutes (and so is split across two sides of seven inch vinyl). The opener “A More Perfect Union” starts with stern historical oratory (“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger?”) before pounding drums usher in a gloriously deranged update on Springsteen’s anthem of escape (“I’m looking for a new New Jersey / Because tramps like us / baby we were born to DIE”) which builds and then drops repeatedly in volume and rage over its – relatively modest – seven minutes. Elsewhere there are Irish reels (‘Richard II’), bagpipes (‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’), wild saxophone (‘…And Ever’) and a song called “Theme From ‘Cheers’” that has nothing to do with the TV programme (“Sick and tired of everyone in this town… Kiss the good times goodbye”).

Guest appearances to present the historical readings include Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and Carrie Ramone of Vivian Girls – and these two groups perfectly encapsulates the spectrum of this record: it ranges from spirited, riff-heavy rock and roll anthems through to visceral, ramshackle garage rock with a power and vision sadly lacking from many current indie-rockers. As the group collectively chant “the enemy is everywhere” on ‘Titus Andronicus Forever’, this moment captures the band perfectly: not so much a rock band, more a rowdy and ragged troop, battle-weary but unbowed, ‘us-against-them’ fighters. The record may be shot through with historical references but it feels utterly alive and living in the present. “The Monitor” is exhilarating, literate, loud and epic – and a powerful contender for many end of the year lists. Titus Andronicus Forever indeed.

I wrote the above for back in March but timely to re-post it here given the short UK tour from Titus Andronicus before they fly to Primavera Festival:

21 May Sound City Festival, Liverpool
22 May Stag & Dagger Festival, Glasgow
23 May Cockpit 2, Leeds
24 May Ruby Lounge, Manchester [BUY TICKETS]
25 May City & Arts Project, London
27 May Primavera Festival, Barcelona

Titus Andronicus
The Monitor [BUY]

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