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The Thinking Person's Punk Rock
on October 23, 2012
It's easy to like the idea of Titus Andronicus. What can you expect from a band named after a William Shakespeare dramatic play? Well, here's the recipe:
3 parts loud guitars
1 part existential angst
1 part patriotism
2 parts cerebral lyrics
1 part love for history
1 part silliness
3 parts do-it-yourself punk rock
Titus Andronicus is as educated as they are rocking -- where contemporary punks would sing about anarchy and nihilism, this band chugs out 14+ minute epics about the Civil War (as seen on their last album). The band doesn't try to follow up its previous album (THE MONITOR) by one-upping it though -- instead, LOCAL BUSINESS is a more rootsier, grittier affair. Many of these songs sound like they have been roadtested or written with the thought of live performance first and foremost. The album balances Patrick Stickle's fantastic lyrics with an energetic and almost out-of-control brand of punk rock. Many of the songs here turn on their head midway through ("In a Small Body", "My Eating Disorder"), but the band does best when it finds a groove and sticks with it. "(I am the) Electric Man" is a fun song, but it showcases what Titus Andronicus is without its sharp lyrics -- not much other than a few vague and playful feelings. The final track, "Tried to Quit Smoking" lands just shy of 10 minutes, and it doesn't really quite pick up until its final 3 minutes.
Here the thing: some of the impact from this album relies on the listener knowing what's going on with the band: "My Eating Disorder" feels playful, but it comes from a bizarre true account that renders the song pretty painful; "(I am the) Electric Man" was written in the emergency room after Patrick Stickles was electrocuted in an accident. These two songs (for example) come across as a little silly, but their context grants them an emotional heft that would probably be lost on most listeners.
In comparison to previous albums, LOCAL BUSINESS fell a bit short for me. I liked the album a lot, but the intensity of THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES or the epic themes of THE MONITOR cast a long shadow. Should Titus Andronicus fans buy this album? Absolutely. Should newcomers? I'd probably start with one of their earlier albums. Because most of this album's energy is loaded in the first half, the album feels a bit uneven an inconsistent at times. Even so, it's a great listen, and with lyrics that double as philosophical and social commentary, there's a lot of album to explore. Standout tracks to sample/download: "Ecce Homo," "Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter," and "My Eating Disorder."