By Scott Creney
Titus Andronicus go emo on their new album. And they even sample the guitar from Bruce Hornsby’s ‘Every Little Kiss’ for the solo on album opener “Ecce Homo”. How fucking badass is that?
Throw some Springsteen in there as well, but without the gruffness, skinny instead of stout. I respect Patrick Skittles — I mean Stickles, sorry. In a time when most of his brethren write lyrics that are half-assed and banal, the guy strives to say something. He recognizes that lyrics can communicate as well. Hell, he tries to actually communicate. He throws words against the wall at an Elvis Costello-like rate that has to count for something. And he’s genuinely funny, some of the time even intentionally.
So what if all their melodies sound like ‘The Battle Hymn Of The Republic’? If it was good enough for Sherman it’s good enough for Titus Andronicus.
If anyone in The Hold Steady was less than 45 years old, they might sound like this.
Titus Andronicus are the kind of band who think that throwing up in a 7-11 dumpster says something meaningful about being young in America. The kind of assholes who think that being called an asshole is a compliment, and wear v-neck T-shirts while they rails against other douchebags in their v-neck t-shirts. Titus Andronicus are so self-aware that it hurts, and most of the time that pain is self-inflicted. And they know it. No way out. Trapped in self-consciousness, angry at themselves for feeling angry, flailing smartly at their stupidity, and undercutting their moments of clarity with an Old Milwaukee induced fog.
Hell, maybe they do have their finger on the pulse of (a very specific segment of) young America. They’re a smarter, more energetic, more committed version of a world that values none of those things. And they know it too. They can’t help sounding cheesy (‘In A Small Body’), but even as they hate themselves for sounding cheesy, they’re so desperate to reach us, so alone and isolated, that they can’t help writing the anthem despite their own better instincts.
It is this struggle that makes Titus Andronicus interesting. If it was accompanied by more interesting, forward-looking music, it would almost be compelling.
When he sings “Your dick is too small to fuck the whole world”, I totally believe him. When he sings “Don’t ever get in my way” 10 seconds later I don’t believe him for an instant. But I find it lovable the way that Patrick Stickles is right there with me, shaking his head and wondering what the fuck he was thinking. But when he wrote that he was being honest in a way that few bands ever own up to. Titus Andronicus embody the internal struggles that come with trying to rock out 60 years after rock was invented. Unless you’re a brain-dead guitar-slinging moron (which TA most emphatically is not), you’re always/already going to feel at least a little pathetic strapping on that guitar.
The big finish is called ‘Tried To Quit Smoking’. As big dynamic titles go, it ain’t ‘Born To Run’ or even ‘Thunder Road’. But then Titus Andronicus would feel ridiculous going 100% in any direction. So give it a dumb title and sing your heart out, or what’s left of it anyway. Like some fucked up yin-yang symbol, this band has to take their sincerity down a peg, and push their sarcasm until it bursts. I’ll never listen to this album again, but I suspect it will help a few people sort out some of their own bullshit. And if Titus Andronicus ever sorts out their own, if they ever outgrow their insecurities, they might make an astounding album. Which may or may not be as interesting as Local Business. When it comes to growing up, and I’m sure Titus Andronicus know this, you run the risk of becoming boring.