“I'll write my masterpiece some other day”-Titus Andronicus from Titus Andronicus off The Airing of Grievances, 2008Two years removed from its breakout nihilistic indie/punk debut, Titus Andronicus returns with The Monitor, an album that inspires feelings of violence, excitement, despair and righteous vengeance, often all within the same song.Notice the word usage in the first paragraph. Album. This is not some collection of songs, some assembly of singles and catchy tunes to be chopped up and played in whatever order one would like.
We have met the enemy, and he is us If Bruce Springsteen sowed the seeds of small-town introspection, his fellow New Jerseyites Titus Andronicus are flooding the fields. The punk quintet deconstructed postindustrial life with its gut-wrenching debut, The Airing of Grievances. And the band’s sophomore LP, The Monitor, crushes the rosy spectacles of heartland rock, peeling away the façade of barroom camaraderie to reveal an entire generation inured to those highs.
Fascinating, overblown, downright baffling… sometimes concept albums are all these things, and sometimes, they are not. It is rare, though, they’re such terrific fun as the second set from Titus Andronicus, which squares up against colossal odds (societal reverberations of conflicts long passed; song length averaging six minutes; spoken-word interludes) and overcomes them with ease. I’d go as far as to label the quintet nonchalant, were it not for the negativity that word implies; from the opening notes of their blistering debut album The Airing of Grievances through the dying strains of The Monitor’s final track, it is clear that being in a band is the most important thing in the world for Titus Andronicus, everything they touch ablaze with righteous indignation.
Modern indie rock generally treats emotion as something that should be guarded or disguised. The Monitor does not subscribe to this viewpoint. On their second album, New Jersey's Titus Andronicus split the emotional atom with anthemic chants, rousing sing-alongs, celebrations of binge drinking, marathon song titles, broken-hearted duets, punked-up Irish jigs, and classic rock lyric-stealing.
The second album by Titus Andronicus is ostensibly a concept album about the American civil war, or, according to singer Patrick Stickles, "about how the conflicts that led our nation into that great calamity remain unresolved". It's good that he told us, because like most concept albums, the linking theme remains undetectable to the listener. But it also makes sense: The Monitor – presumably named for the ironclad warship – is filled with ragged glory, punk-rock guitars bleeding into Irish reels, rock'n'roll refrains and anguished howling.
When I first received An Airing of Grievances, the titanic 2008 debut by New Jersey reprobates Titus Andronicus, the album spent a solid and uninterrupted week in my stereo (“stereo,” in this instance, being a synecdochic device standing in place of my computer, portable MP3 player, and car). Gleaned from a veritable rogues’ gallery of punk and indie rock icons past and present, their sound simultaneously referenced the hungover vulnerability of The Replacements, the misanthropic abandon of Mclusky, the wry existential dread of Les Savy Fav, and the stark jaggedness of The Pixies at their most stripped-down. I connected instantly with the album because I felt like I’d loved it my entire life.
Named for one of the U.S. Navy’s legendary, ironclad battleships, and with a loose civil war concept in tow, Titus Andronicus shows signs of maturity on The Monitor, not just in their weighty theme and the abundance of historical references, but also musically. Coming off their lo-fi, garage-punk debut, the four-piece aimed high for their second album, and incorporated a surplus of instrumentation (bagpipes, fiddle, trombone, and cello, among other things) that was performed by a who’s-who in the underground indie rock circuit.
“They went onstage because they had no fucking choice.” Tony Wilson’s words about Joy Division in a recent documentary may also apply to Titus Andronicus, Glen Rock, N.J.’s favorite sons. Titus Andronicus are a band for which performance isn’t for fame and glamour; it's for the ability to get out the frustrations of the modern world that are keeping them down. The band’s sophomore album, The Monitor, is allegedly about the Civil War, but you won’t find dissertations on state’s rights or brothers fighting brothers here.
An above-average Titus record is worth a dozen imitators... Titus’ debut ‘The Airing Of Grievances’ passed many by – a crime, because it was a masterpiece of tender fury. ‘The Monitor’, inspired by the American Civil War won’t be so ignored, filled as it is with charming bluster and what seems like a million instruments being thumped ragged at once to create a riot of Arcade Fire-meets-Bright Eyes melody.
Doing for Jersey and alienated Jersey lowlifes what Dropkick Murphys has spent a career doing for Ireland and the Boston bar scene, Titus Andronicus play an earnest brand of throwback punk wherein every bar fight deserves a monument and every curfew, every hour at the office, and every MIP or DUI is an invocation to raise firsts in riotous defense of freedom. Their no-apologies, no-prisoners approach to rock made The Airing of Grievances a viciously entertaining debut, and also proved the secret to the band’s best trick: taking the sort of self-centered, self-loathing lyrics that emo bands don’t even dare to write and making them not only palatable, but fun. By wrapping them in scabrous guitar riffs and blaring horns, Titus Andronicus took would-be clunkers like “You’ll spend the rest of your life trying to hard to forget/That you met the world naked and screaming/And that’s how you’ll leave it” and transmuted them into glorious, sing-along gold.
If I initially had any trouble figuring out exactly what to make of The Airing of Grievances, the 2008 debut by New Jersey blogosphere faves Titus Andronicus, it was only because the experience of listening to the record was so purely and deliriously pleasurable that it led me to distrust my own opinion of it a little. Arriving via a wave of hype in the digital sphere nearly a full year before getting a physical release in early 2009 (a potent example of underdog ambition having finally outpaced the creaky machinations of an increasingly lumbering industry), the album was most confusing for the number of contradictions it seemed to embrace. A band so exhibitionist in their literary tendencies to name themselves after Shakespeare’s earliest and bloodiest tragedy should not, for example, drop a Seinfeld reference as the title of their first album.
Even if The Who are the only non-prog rock band that ever really pulled off what could truly be called concept albums, it's been entertaining over the years hearing musicians hang songs around a theme. Usually..
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.
The Monitor is a near perfect union of cacophony and immature angst. It's impudent and insolent and a little smarter than it needs to be. It's like a punk rock record but with enough actual musical competency to carry the songs out. That sounds trivial until you see that, much like 2008's Festivus-inspired debut The Airing of Grievances, going seven-minutes plus on the clock is pretty routine for Titus Andronicus, and for the hell of it, the band goes for a full-on Yes-scale 14-minute opus in "The Battle of Hampton Roads" with its literal mixing of the sacred and profane ("There's a way to live the values your forefathers gave you/Prepare to be told 'That shit's gay, dude.'") It's like a Greetings From Go-Fuck-Yourself Park, N.J.
Lives up both to its rebellious, riotous ambition and its rich musical heritage. Mischa Pearlman 2010 Bruce Springsteen has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently. Not just in terms of his own career, which has once again flourished since 2002’s The Rising, but through a number of bands who are carrying the torch he first lit on E Street all those years ago.