Review: Titus Andronicus – Local Business

23 Oct

In 2010, Titus Andronicus released The Monitor, the year’s most entertaining album and an instant indie classic. A sort-of concept album likening life in New Jersey to the American Civil War (or something), it infused a punk ethos with bagpipes, fiddles, and even a horn section while frontman Patrick Stickles spat out lyrics as bleak as they were funny. Following up such an album would not be an enviable task, but Titus Andronicus seems game enough, and here we are only two years later with Local Business.

The band wisely makes no attempt to recreate the once-in-a-lifetime magic of The Monitor, instead mostly dialing back their sound to the rock-and-roll essentials of guitar, bass, and drums (with the ocassional splash of piano). For the most part, the re-tooled sound suits them: the songs seem a little tighter, the guitars a little crunchier, and Stickles’ voice a little less like Conor Oberst’s.

Local Business opens with a trio of songs almost worth the price of admission alone–“Ecce Homo,” “Still Life with Hot Deuce and Silver Platter,” and “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus” are as exhilarating and anthemic as anything the band has done. In typical Titus Andronicus fashion, these songs eschew verses and choruses in favor of moving beathlessly from hook to hook. Not even tempo changes are jarring; the progressions always seem natural and seamless. Even better, Stickles is in as fine form lyrically as ever, infusing the same nihilistic worldview with the same healthy dose of humor. Lyrics juxtaposing the absurd with the sacred abound (“It’s such a weird world / it feels real wrong smiling”), reinforcing the band’s anything-goes aesthetic at nearly every turn.

From here on out, however, the album becomes hit-or-miss, sometimes renewing the promise of those early tracks (“In a Big City”) and sometimes seeming downright inessential. Perhaps the worst offender is “(I Am the) Electric Man,” written after Stickles accidentally electrocuted himself, which may elicit a stray chuckle but would make a whole lot more sense as a B-side. Album closer “Tried to Quit Smoking” is particularly disappointing; like its Monitor counterpart “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” it is the longest track on the album, but unlike “Hampton,” it never does anything interesting enough to justify its near-ten-minute length.

As previous Titus Andronicus albums have been top-to-bottom excellent, Local Business’ inconsistency ultimately damages it. Although there is plenty here to recommend it to fans of the band, its lack of focus makes it seem like more of a minor effort, and newcomers would probably have better luck starting with The Monitor or The Airing of Grievances.

Grade: B

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One Response to “Review: Titus Andronicus – Local Business”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 23 great songs of 2012 « Nothing Delivered - December 31, 2012

    […] – “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus” (from Local Business)  “Upon Viewing…” moves swiftly through its 3-and-a-half-minute runtime, with […]

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