Titus Andronicus – A Productive Cough
RTs: 2, 3, 4, 5
RIYL: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Van Morrison, late 60s-early 70s Rolling Stones
The garage punk heroes in Titus Andronicus have followed up their biggest, most audacious album (2015’s epic A Most Lamentable Tragedy) with something much more focused, but also something completely different from anything they’ve made before. For the most part, this new sound works. The songs are generally engaging and fun to listen to, but a number of the songs can feel a bit slight and overlong at times (a problem that most any non-prog or non-jam band is gonna run into when over half the songs on the album are 7+ minute epics and none of the songs are shorter than 4 minutes).
While the album treads new ground for Titus, the sound itself is honestly very well-worn ground. The best comparison I could come up with was Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (there is a big distinction between solo Springsteen and the E Street Band, and this album at points does as good a job delineating that difference as Bruce himself could). The album has a full big-band sound, complete with a horn section and various voices outside of lead singer Patrick Stickles chiming in on songs. “Real Talk” and “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” channel E Street most purely, with high energy, expansive sounds, occasionally goofy lyrics, and plenty of lyrics about reality and difficulties of life. “Number One (in New York)” hits a similar vibe, but with a much slower, personally contemplative song. “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone” channels a different Americana hero with a fairly direct cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (excepting the 3-ish minute digression at the end where Stickles requests that no one forgets any of the actual Rolling Stones, member by member. That part really could have been cut). The only major change to the lyrics is the transition from Dylan’s second-person, somewhat accusatory “you,” to +@’s self-deprecating and confessional “I” throughout the song. It seems like a minor change at first, but it really does change the meaning and tone of the song in an interesting way. “Home Alone” is the hardest rocking track on the album, but it’s more of a hard rock slow burner rather than the chaotic punk the band has put out in the past.
Overall, this is a fairly enjoyable album, with frequent fun moments and songs you can lose yourself in. But it’s all in a musical style that’s been done so much that it’s hard to not compare it to superior albums from 30, 40, 50 years ago that do more or less the same thing, but better. If you enjoy the bands this album invites comparisons to, or want to hear a generally fantastic band try something very new, this is worth a listen. If you don’t dig rehashes of the past, or are looking for a more traditional Titus Andronicus album, I’d steer well clear of this one.