Album Review: Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

by Gordon Elgart on February 10, 2010

Tasked to review the new album, The Monitor, from Titus Andronicus, I find it difficult to expand upon my reaction to this album. “I’m pretty sure it’s better than their first album, but I sure do like it a lot less” is what I said. I think it works like this: if you’ve been loving The Airing of Grievances for over a year, and shouted “your life is over” along with the band when seeing them live four times in a week, you may find this album disappointing. Otherwise, I think you’re going to like it.

Every time I saw a review of Grievances that called it derivative in some way, I got really angry because I knew the album to be a wholly original combination of influences, with brilliant lyrics, all played with passion. As a live band, they played every show like it was their last show on earth, and the whole thing has a fire about it.

Now, there’s been changes in the lineup, and the really excited shouting guitarist guy (name unknown) is no longer in the band, although the kick-ass rhythm section has gone unchanged. So what does this all sound like? To answer that question, I’ll quote from lead singer and songwriter Patrick Stickles, who answered this question in the band’s press materials:

“So what does all this sound like? It has long passages of ambient drones, blazing saxophone, pianos homages to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” complete marching drumlines, Thunder Tube solos, fourteen-minute Billy Bragg knock-offs, backwards liturgical pieces, bombastic country duets, garbage cans hit with tambourines, choirs of angels with bromantic faces, probably too many spoken word interludes lifted from cassette tapes, and, of course, the hissy-fit punk songs and off-key warbling we have come to expect from Titus Andronicus. Did I mention that this record is sixty-five minutes long? Because that’s kind of important. Through and through, it is a wholehearted and potentially ill-advised grab for some sort of imaginary brass ring, the sound of a band desperate for success and defiantly unafraid of failure. That was the idea, at least.”

That sounds like a pretty good description, and I’ll say that while last time, it felt like a blast of originality, this times it feels like they’ve copied themselves. How do you follow up a modern classic? You can either record something so different that everyone is mad that you’ve changed, or you can record something so similar that everyone is mad that you haven’t. There’s no winning formula. Album one was too good.

So can I take this as just more great material from a new favorite of mine? I’m having a hard time doing that. First of all, the sixty-five minutes mentioned? It’s a bit long. The album finds a logical musical conclusion after the song “Four Score And Seven” which seems to end the 40 minutes of sweeping music that came before. The coda, “Theme From ‘Cheers’,” changes the mood quite a bit, and I can’t seem to get back into it when it continues. I feel like this whole thing will flow better on vinyl when it gets broken up by flipping it a few times.

Let’s go back to Stickles for a moment:

“Blah blah blah Springsteen blah blah blah beer blah blah blah beard blah blah blah Shakespeare yadda yadda yadda Seinfeild [sic] blah blah blah Conor Oberst in a vat of acid blah blah blah books.”

This is an actual quote. He references Springsteen (“tramps like us, baby we were born to die”) and Shakespeare lyrically, and the “sounds like Conor” crowd is going to find much to talk about here. If people want to criticize the album, they’ll find that the band is so self aware of their shortcomings that it’s nearly impossible to do so.

Now, there’s no one in the world who loves a concept album more than I do, so you’d think this would be right up my alley. I’ve spent weeks listening to this album and finding it interesting, well crafted, nicely recorded, and basically just darned good. It’s just a hard album to love.

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Titus Andronicus – The Monitor will be released by XL Recordings on March 9. You should act like me and pre-order the vinyl.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline Hernandez February 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Did he really spell Seinfield as Seinfeild?

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Gordon Elgart February 10, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Yep! That’s a straight-up copy and paste job (except for my adding “sic” to it).

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Ben February 11, 2010 at 7:20 am

Having never seen them live, I have to say the bit hit from their first album always left me with a little bit of a ‘meh’ feeling. Interesting review of the new one, though!

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IMO February 11, 2010 at 8:58 am

Seems a shame to review the whole album and not mention the Civil War, and it as a metaphor for our struggles through life – the concept the whole record is based upon. As a newcomer to the band and having not yet heard the first album, this was what intrigued me most, and what i have found to the most satisfying aspect artistically of the thing. The ambition of it is also something that stands it apart from any other indie rock record i’ve heard in a long time.

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Gordon Elgart February 11, 2010 at 9:12 am

That is a fair criticism since the album is a Civil War concept album, and I should have mentioned that. I understand that it’s what the band was going for, but I’m not sure the metaphor worked for me.

It’s definitely lyrically ambitious, but musically, it feels like a carbon copy of their previous album, which as I stated, is a modern classic, and I absolutely love.

Make sure to see them live when they come through your town.

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