Titus Andronicus

The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Written by: TL on 13/08/2015 23:00:20

We get it. Punk bands are supposed to challenge conventions in the music scene, otherwise the term punk is hollow. However, one pretty good convention that we always - invariably - recommend leaving be, is the one that says that album releases should be roughly 30 to 50 minutes long. If a band has a lot of good songs that they want to show off, sure thing, put them on, but even the best bands in the world struggle to consistently put ten great tracks on a record without a dud or two. So if you're going to string together 29 songs, each consecutive one needs to be a banger, otherwise some of it will inevitably just feel like unnecessary filler.

New Jersey group Titus Andronicus are a punk band, and their recently released fourth album "The Most Lamentable Tragedy" features 29 tracks, clocking in at 92 minutes of music and voila, punk or not punk, the result is indeed rammed full of filler.

Now, the reason most of the world knows of Titus Andronicus is "The Monitor", their eccentric 2010 album which mixed lyrics inspired by the American civil war with reflections on modern relationships. That mad idea - delivered with triumphant Americana melodies and an overall sense of grandeur - made for a fascinating listen, even if it was arguably a bit silly. It was an intense ride through a refreshing sound that felt like The E Street Band injected with amphetamine and playing on the back off an offroader. You could just about imagine Springsteen about to sing "This traaain" only for the train to run him over while cannons fired and hearts broke in the background. That's what it sounded like. It was mad, but pretty awesome.

Two records later, however, Titus Andronicus sound the same, only now stretched over more tracks than their style has the diversity to cover. You're listening to the same moods and tempos, only they're less catchy, they're less grand, and in front, singer Patrick Stickles' often off tune sneering and snarling is characteristic alright, but his diction is terrible. So you have a mammoth album in five acts, where the sameyness of the music has you on the verge of sleeping already by the end of Act I "Set Aside or Miserable and Water-Buried", and where the oppressive symph-punk - all full of pianos and horns and what have you - has you dying for a break from your headphones somewhere between Act II: "Beside Himself" and Act III "Down By The Seaside". And then the few lyrical themes you can make out seem to run in circles as well. Stickles has lost his mind on track five, then again at track nine and then later, at track 23, lo and behold if he isn't going insane. There's probably a deeper meaning here, but due to the slurring of the words, it is nigh unintelligible.

If you decide to dive into the album anyway, admittedly, the first "I Lost My Mind (+@ )" (which is a cover) is pretty catchy in a simple way, as is the sub-one minute "Lookalike" in the next act. You sense that the album is more about songs like "More Perfect Union" however, which figures as a study in increasing and decreasing intensity ad infinitum as it moves from a craaaawling beginning to and endless romp closing in on the ten minute mark. The same happens in "(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID", where it works better, but mostly because the song has a stronger riff to begin with, and it is questionable whether dragging it out has actually made it the best it could be.

But more importantly, dragging out a few tracks into epic, ebbing and flowing jams would normally be pretty cool, but by God, on a 92 minute album our ears are long since saturated. And as if there wasn't already enough music, the whole ordeal starts with two minutes of near white noise in form of intro "The Angry Hour", features another minute of (admittedly welcome) dead silence at track fourteen, a solemn recital of "Auld Lang Syne" at track 22 and even more silence in [ seven seconds ] at track 27. And somehow, these completely pointless tracks stand out more easily than most of the actual songs.

So to reiterate: We get it. Being a punk band is an important and inherently rebellious matter. But here, any actual good ideas Titus Andronicus have, are completely drowned out by the vastness of material that's on offer. And what good is a blow against music scene conventions if it does not make you want to listen to it? That's what albums should do - They should invite you to listen again as soon as you've listened once, or at most a few times. "The Most Lamentable Tragedy" does not do this. In fact, most people will likely be zoning out and tuning off before it is even a third of the way through, and frankly, those people won't be wrong to do so.

Download: Lookalike; (S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID; Come On, Siobhán
For The Fans Of: Desaparecidos, Fucked Up, Off With Their Heads
Listen: titusandronicus.net

Release date 28.07.2015
Merge Records

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