Release Date: Jul 28, 2015
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
…which allows entrance, recirculation, back into the album’s opening drone, “The Angry Hour” (or, in a grander sweep, into debut album The Airing of Grievances); it’s a choice, a divergence that defines The Most Lamentable Tragedy either as the band’s oeuvre in concentration or as the retroactive grand finale of a tetralogy. Throughout TMLT, the band’s preferred acronym for the five-act opera, Patrick Stickles — not Our Hero, but The Artist, Our Hero’s allegorical-autobiographical source/creator — has left what one might be tempted to call Easter eggs, if such self-referentiality weren’t so completely integral to the appeal and genius of his work as (or in) Titus Andronicus. The album is a map leading to itself, to its predecessors (both +@’s earlier albums and its sleeve-worn influences), to a self-realization fraught with false hope, false starts, false redemption, but, ultimately, humble stability, a sort of peace.
”’Cause tramps like us, baby we born to die.” About an hour into The Most Lamentable Tragedy, the most ambitious project from New Jersey hellions Titus Andronicus to date, a distorted bell strikes dread during a warm choral rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. It’s a warning, a reminder of the passing of time and how things can go from safe and happy to perilous and painful in the blink of an eye. Patrick Stickles’ voice has long been a many-splintered thing, laced with raw punk candour and unconcerned with polish.
The full name of Shakespeare’s messiest, most violent work is The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, which seems like something of an understatement by the time the curtain falls on the play’s climactic bloodbath. Though written by the world’s preeminent dramatist, Titus Andronicus is not without its flaws. Clumsy, verbose monologues hold up the action, and the play’s barbarity borders on unbelievable.
Patrick Stickles, frontman and songwriter of Titus Andronicus, is the sort of punk who probably reads Lincoln biographies or Nietzsche treatises while Hüsker Dü plays in the background. The band made its name with a sophomore LP, The Monitor, which drew pictures of the Civil War with power chords and jagged solos. The follow-up, Local Business, was a crash course in existentialism and hopelessness paired with music more triumphant than its lyrics would suggest.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Although I identified strongly with each, I didn't fully recognize the disparity between the happy and sad Patrick Stickles on Titus Andronicus's (hereafter +@) previous three albums. Being the dead art that it is, he approached punk rock with the full realization that he could fail miserably. As he explored this conclusion, his music got better.
Review Summary: Titus Andronicus come roaring back.At some point in the history of every great band, there has come a time when they’ve simply thrown caution to the wind. Sometimes it’s a massive concept album, like The Who’s Tommy, while other times it’s a wild departure in style, such as Radiohead’s Kid A. It remains to be seen if Titus Andronicus have as many gears as the latter (probably not), but if The Most Lamentable Tragedy proves anything, it’s that these guys possess the creative chops to be mentioned alongside some of the greatest conceptual artists of all time.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy is not an easy record to experience. Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles felt it was necessary to release explanatory notes and handwritten lyrics, to be as clear as possible about its concept and story. Even with all those resources, TMLT is still an album that demands an almost academic approach to fully grasp the nuances of its story.
If you've been to Brooklyn venue Shea Stadium in the last few years, you might have encountered Patrick Stickles sitting at the door, selling tickets to shows with crowds far more diminished than those drawn by his band, Titus Andronicus. Such remember-your-roots DIY ethos has always been central to the band’s existence, because at a time when bands are more flexible than ever about taking money to survive, Titus Andronicus are specifically beloved for their refusal to compromise. They start charity funds so their music can be kept out of advertisements; they snidely refer to Kendrick Lamar as a shoe spokesperson, an attitude both rigidly simplistic and technically true.
For a songwriter so consistently fixated on the themes of alienation and depression, Patrick Stickles has never had trouble expressing himself. As the leader of Titus Andronicus, he’s made his name with lyrically and musically maximalist punk epics, most notably the band’s 2010 masterwork The Monitor. Like their contemporaries Fucked Up and Japandroids, Titus Andronicus channel the disaffected outsider ethos and musical intensity of punk traditionally confined to short bursts of energy into something grandiose and even celebratory.
On their first three albums, Titus Andronicus made it clear they were among the most thematically and stylistically ambitious bands to emerge from the punkier end of indie rock since the dawn of the new millennium. Having shown they were equal to the task of a concept album on 2010's The Monitor, TA leader Patrick Stickles has chosen to scale the slippery slope of a creative challenge that has bested many great bands: the rock opera. 2015's The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a narrative in five acts concerning a man scarred by abuse, drugs, and mental illness who encounters his doppelganger, leading to an internal crisis that explodes into violence.
Rock operas are an inherently dicey proposition. Have the right themes, tools, and ability, and you could wind up with a masterpiece that people will still (rightfully?) poke holes in, crying “pretentious” or “grandiose” — would you rather sit through The Wall or Animals? But even if you have all the right pieces aligned, one flash of inspiration could quickly become an abject, laughable disaster; there’s American Idiot and then there’s 21st Century Breakdown. There’s something defiant in even having the guts to attempt this stuff, in taking a pop form and bending it to your will to incorporate narrative, or history and philosophy, or convoluted sci-fi fantasy saga (hi, Coheed and Cambria!).
Titus Andronicus can never be accused of lacking ambition. They've got a name lifted from a Shakespearean tragedy, wrote a concept album about the Civil War, and interviews with frontman Patrick Stickles regularly include book title references that send rock writers skittering to Wikipedia. Their albums consist of equal parts punk, bar rock, and Springsteen arena singalongs, and somehow they've almost always made it work.
For the better part of a decade now, Titus Andronicus has served as a mouthpiece for Patrick Stickles. The band’s lead singer and principal songwriter has long used his personal life as source material for his densely rich lyrical narratives and musings on the human condition. Where before he often relied on allusions and emotional projection to convey his inner demons, the band’s latest album, yet another massive rock opera, uses Stickles’ mental health battles as the basis for its subject matter.
New Jersey rock & roll believers Titus Andronicus get top mileage from a simple idea: baiting hardcore thrust with classic-rock hooks. On their fourth album, they bear down on a 90-minute rock opera in a Quadrophenia vein about growing up, freaking out and coming to unsettled terms. A shaggy chorale, a piano ballad, organ drones and Celtic touches — including a hurtling cover of the Pogues' "A Pair of Brown Eyes" — provide variety.
Over three albums and a decade, Brooklyn’s Titus Andronicus have been making a punk squall with fringe benefits to commend it beyond the moshpit. Quite apart from the bloodthirsty slant of their Shakespearean name, their 2010 work The Monitor was an album about suburban rage set in the US civil war. Longtime fans are rewarded by ongoing internal references that cut across albums.
As an example of how punk has changed over the years, the lot of the concept album takes some beating. Once, it was held to be redolent of unconscionable self-importance and grandiosity. Notwithstanding the existence of Sham 69’s That’s Life – with its gorblimey dialogue between tracks and guest appearance from Miss Brahms off Are You Being Served? – it was the epitome of everything the genre had set out to demolish.
Titus Andronicus are staunch in their ability to set the agenda. They’ve made a rock opera. 93 minutes long. Full time plus stoppage but just shy of ‘Fergie time’. Titus Andronicus? More like Titus Andronandonandonicus. Ultra-conceptualised, it follows the journey of a ‘hero’ in a ….
A mother and daughter stand before an enormous painting. “Isn’t it beautiful?” asks the mother. The daughter turns her head from left to right, attempting to view the painting in its entirety. “But mother,” she asks, after a moment, “how can I know it’s beautiful if I can’t see it all at once?” The Most Lamentable Tragedy, to extend the metaphor, is a very large painting.
Over the last couple months, Patrick Stickles hasn’t made the task of reviewing the fourth Titus Andronicus album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, easy. This is not just because of the album’s sheer length - 93 minutes. Nor is it because of its pretensions - it is, as you probably know by now, a five-act rock opera. Besides, as a good friend of mine put it recently, “it’s only pretentious if you’re pretending,” and Stickles is as 4 Real as they come.
An image comes to mind from the sound of Patrick Stickles’s slurring, ranting, barking voice throughout “The Most Lamentable Tragedy,” the new 29-track, five-act, double-disc, energizing and exhausting punk opera by Titus Andronicus. It’s someone bailing out a boat with a hole in it, adrenalized, alarmed, but in tune with the rhythm of the work and the line between floating and sinking. He’s having an emergency, and emergency is his native state.
Given the band’s affinity for energy and explosions, Titus Andronicus is often compared to Hüsker Dü and The Clash, but a better corollary might be The Who. Both bands specialize in sudden tonal shifts from bombast to sensitive soul-searching, and like The Who, Titus Andronicus caters in collections of songs that work together for a high concept. Not for nothing do the liner notes credit frontman Patrick Stickles as both the writer and director of this project.
You’re gonna be hard-pressed to find a more ambitious 2015 release than this one. Over the course of 90 minutes and 29 tracks, Titus Andronicus explore the many details and facets of frontman Patrick Stickles’ clinical depression. The New Jersey-based band of sonic adventurers do it by throwing every musical idea against the wall: fist-pumping Springsteen-esque rock (“Fatal Flaw”), growling pop/punk (“I Lost My Mind”), buzzing guitar interludes, piano ballads (“No Future Part V”), and even an accordion-led sea shanty (“Stable Boy”).
At 93 minutes, Titus Andronicus's latest may scare off those who believe punk rock should be compartmentalized into accessible pieces. There's not much that's accessible about The Most Lamentable Tragedy, but that's a good thing. Throughout the 29 tracks, lead singer Patrick Stickles unpacks his battles with mental illness and depression via rousing punk rock, including on standout No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about the smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar? We’ve rounded up five of the best new album releases from this week, from the Titus Andronicus’ five-act epic to the power-pop of EZTV: don’t miss out..
Titus Andronicus — The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge)Titus Andronicus’ fourth album takes its title from the full name of the Shakespeare play, re-signalling the band’s affiliation with the bard’s messiest, most baroquely violent work and staking a renewed claim to theatricality. The hour-and-a-half long concept album (which fills up three vinyl discs or, alternatively, a good chunk of your “just added” playlist) makes most sense if you think of it as a workshop version of a rock musical. Surely, for instance, there’s a dramatic reason that the band sings “Auld Lang Syne” near the end.