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Titus Andronicus - Crave your approval but will settle for your utter disdain.
on 9 March 2010
So what do we have here then? In short it is a concept album using the American Civil War as an extended metaphor for a young man's journey away from his ancestral home in New Jersey to his new home in Boston, combined with a sort of half-hearted homage to Bruce Springsteen. It doesn't sound very promising does it? Amazingly then it is all the more surprising that "The Monitor" by Titus Andronicus largely works and on times works brilliantly. Moreover a band which take their name from a minor Shakespearean tragedy turn out to be a high voltage, messy, punk American bar band who have recorded in the words of Drowned in Sound "just a stupendous collection of songs; one that demands to be listened to as loudly as you can possibly get away with".
The Monitor is, of course, the great American civil war ironclad battleship that fought to a standstill its Confederate equivalent CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. It is no great shock then to find an epic 14-minute long summation to the said battle on this album which in its ninth minute introduces the bagpipes! Let us forget the concept for now and pose the key question what's the music like? The album starts with someone quoting Abraham Lincoln and then "A more perfect union" erupts. Squalls of feedback breach into a huge drum beat/riff which would put the Gaslight Anthem to shame and singer Patrick Stickles announcing that "I never wanted to change the world, I'm not looking for a new New Jersey / But tramps like us / Baby we were born to die". Indeed, the current obsession of young American bands with the Boss knows no bounds except in this case its Bruce's nasty nephews at happy hour with ASBOs! At about 4 minutes 10 seconds, it seems to break into a different song that could be the Dropkick Murphys. Just hear it.
Second song "Titus Andronicus forever" is a 2-minute thrash out essentially revolving around a frankly mental guitar solo and the band screaming the "enemy is everywhere". "Richard II" subtitled with some lack of brevity (Or Extraordinary Popular Dimensions And The Madness Of Crowds (Responsible Hate Anthem) is one of the greatest songs the Pogues never recorded and will lead to the most raucous live shows any side of the Atlantic. "A pot in which to pxxx" is another 9-minute epic which contains within its boundaries just about the whole history of rock n roll and what I detect to be a couple of new chords! The albums epic highlight is "Fore Score and Seven" starting slowly with a Sickles offering a range of unprintable expletives. It has a bigger kick than a donkey with a migraine and turns into total rock'n'roll mayhem where at one time Stickles announces that "We're all depraved and disgusting, I spew like a fountain,/And debased, defaced, disgraced and destroyed,/Most of all disappointed" I say atop this mountain".
In this setting "Theme from Cheers" is actually quite a nice if rather anarchic pop song and for good measure why not reprise "Titus Andronicus forever" again, call it "And ever", and off we go again "The enemy is everywhere"...... Finally "To friends old and new" represents a lovely change of pace, a slow building boozy ballad which hangs on a huge guitar solo. This album is work of a band whose motto is the title of this review. Titus Andronicus are a rude, raw rock band who will be lucky to ever sell a record and that would be a little Shakespearian tragedy in its own right (the comparisons with the Replacements in this regard are spooky) "The Monitor" is hugely inventive, lyrically funny and often literate, partly Irish in feel with a splash of Conor Oberst and more often than not completely scabrous. Spin has called it "Born to Run's drunk stepchild on an epic spree". Wish I thought of that one.