What if all your passions were everything you had hoped for and more? And even if you were given everything and then some, what would finally draw you to fruition? The reason I ask is because a band like Titus Andronicus, known for their intensity and emotional pull, is not only passionately conveying their loves but they’ve found a way to deliver them with tremendous presence. Their debut album was a small hit and rather than cleaning out the closet with the same style, they packed it all into what band leader Patrick Stickles calls “more or less a ‘concept album.’” Yep, the band’s very own chief proponent wrote the press release to The Monitor and it couldn’t have come from a better person because it makes utter sense for Stickles to bring forth his band’s intentions on an album that’s, yes, all you had hoped for and more.
But I think, even with that, you could safely pinpoint a band like Titus Andronicus’ ability in their natural knack for guitar hooks and energy. They’re the kind of ‘All-American band’ you can root for and even when they’re singing “The enemy is everywhere,” you can sing along too, air-guitar in tow, beer in one hand and cigarette hanging off the tip of your lip. Much like The Hold Steady, their influences come from the gritty rock off the streets and it’s so downright immediate that even an epic concept album like The Monitor can still sound like a good ol’ time.
With his Conor Oberst-like croon, Stickles finds a way of bringing out his most clever and poignant lines to the table. And even when his band is romping away as if they were playing in a hole-in-the-wall pub, it’s his uncontrollable, unwavering magnitude that pulls everyone out of the hole and into the spotlight. Moments were the entire band is found shouting “You will always be a loser!” appear directly through the lenses of clarity of pounding drums and even louder guitars. So once you turn around and find that the name of the song is “No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future,” you can either just smile or throw your arms in the air and sing along – the latter always seems to work best.
It’s clear that there needed to be a certain airing of grievances, just to be able to suffice everything onto one neat and tidy location. But then again, there isn’t anything remotely ‘neat’ about The Monitor. Instead, it’s a rocking, joyful, epic beast of an album that rattles with energy and pulses with the heart of a raging bull. Waiting to explode from its cage, there is no better introduction than the fist-pumping anthem that is “A More Perfect Union,” what with its joining vocals, effervescent guitar solo and those timely Bruce Springsteen borrowed lyrics.
While the album has its concept to pursue, Titus Andronicus never allow it to become more than a modest idea to timidly follow. There’s certainly a distinctive sound to admire when you can combine the twangy touch of an abrasive harmonica with swaying vocals on something like “Four Score and Seven,” but before you know it, the whole band is singing, “You won’t be laughing so hard.” The enunciation on the last word, right before the horns and drums are introduced, is the kind of passion I was referring to earlier. Anger, bitterness and hell, throw in some resentment in there, Stickles sings “haa-a-a-arrrrr-d” with a harsh distaste in his mouth. These touches only make the culmination of the guitar and bass duo sound that much better; one can wonder how astounding it’s all done in a live setting.
Ultimately, they’ve struck a far louder chord on The Monitor than they did with their debut. Where that one pushed the envelope, this new one writes a sordid tale of growing up, moving on and pushing ahead and finds time in between to sing about what it all means. Stickles sings, “But I wasn’t born to die like a dog, I was born to die just like a man” and what a better metaphor to follow, we’re all capable of importance and self-worth. This time, they can safely mail out that envelope and await their reward in return, after all they’ve surely earned it with an album as good as this.
“Four Score and Seven” Part One by Titus Andronicus
“Four Score and Seven” Part Two by Titus Andronicus