Titus Andronicus: The Monitor, Album Review


Vinyl giveaway details at the end of the review.
Titus Andronicus
The Monitor
XL Recordings
out March 9th

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At exactly the five minute mark on The Monitor's fifth track, "A Pot In Which To Piss," Titus Andronicus blows you away. It's just one of the many moments on the album in which a song changes gears entirely, switching from a screechy garage rock builder to a piano-led anthem in the blink of an eye. But it's the most significant switch because it defines the band's transition from album one to album two. Titus has found a way to maintain their raw, punk, frenetic Jersey energy from An Airing of Grievances on every single Monitor track, but has also discovered how to convert that energy to smooth, polished, beautiful music. And when the familiar Hold Steady piano roll trickles into "Piss," the band makes the leap from brilliant garage rockers to just brilliant musicians. It's a leap that The Monitor, already one of 2010's most ambitious records, triumphantly demonstrates throughout its sixty-plus minutes.

From the sweeping opening riffs of "A More Perfect Union" to the two magnificent parts of "Four Score" to the 14 minute long "Battle of Hampton Roads," The Monitor is nothing if not big. And perhaps it is this ambition that has helped Titus Andronicus rise to the forefront of the blogosphere, that has garnered them the attention of music-lovers from all sides of the spectrum.

Take a look at Pretty Much Amazing's favorite artists. We like accessible, catchy listens for pop-loving fans.  On paper, and even at first listen, our readers should not like Titus. I sure didn't. Their lead singer, Patrick Stickles, really cannot sing. The guitars and drums are aggressive and in-your-face. The lyrics are depressing put-downs. But somehow the emotion that they put into their music, paired with the epic nature of their expansive instrumentation (bagpipes, horns, piano, strings and, of course, blaring guitars are all included) amount to something so big, so incredible, that one can't help but be captivated by it.

Influences are abound; Titus has been frequently compared to Conor Oberst's hard-rocking side project Desaparecidos, but Oberst's voice has more than a hint of melody. Stickles is a straight-up yeller, but don't worry, you'll get used to it. He'll get you hooked with his delivery of the opening song's signature line: "Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!" An exclamation point really doesn't do it justice.

It's not much of a stress, actually, to label much of The Monitor as one huge exclamation point. Rally cries are embedded throughout: the passionate "enemy is everywhere" chant of "Titus Andronicus Forever," the anthemic "you will always be a loser" taunt of "No Future Part 3," the call to "rally around the flag" from "A More Perfect Union."

But beneath the sing-alongs is true emotion. "To Old Friends and New" is a full-on ballad, with some gorgeous female vocals to compliment Stickles' unorthodox crooning.  "Theme From 'Cheers'" is delivered with soul; "What the fuck was it for anyway" is not a chorus, it's a real question, and it's way more heartfelt than it should be.

The Monitor is indulgent and imperfect. Shouty and predictable songs like "Richard II" remind you of those initial reasons we shouldn't even like Titus in the first place. The extended opening and closing jams are indeed epic, but also excessive. Still, Titus Andronicus' overall ambition pays off, as they've crafted a truly original and impressive sophomore album with which they will keep old friends and make new ones.

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