Titus Andronicus have always been an ambitious Band. Take their 2010 concept LP: ”The monitor” which was based on the American civil war. How many bands, let alone those within the heavy sounding rock music genre attempt to establish such overarching themes within their music?. Their 2012 effort: “Local business” saw Andronicus adopting the “plug in” and play method of recording – in order to provide a visceral, clean sounding output.”Local business” was perhaps a regressive move for the Band considering the largeness of “The monitor”.
“The Most Lamentable Tragedy” the band’s fourth full length, a 29-tracked rock opera, represents an even bolder step into the ever disappearing realms of avant-garde rock and roll. One could be suspicious as to whether or not Andronicus have the musical chops to garner sufficient interest over 93 minutes (yes it is that long). Punk has never been about long-form expression. Take the wire’s “pink flag”, or any other punk classic, they rarely stretched beyond the 40-minute mark. Punk rock, in it’s purest of forms was never supposed to exemplify technicality, but rather youth and novelty. Andronicus have taken it upon themselves to completely subvert these notions, and ironically this is the most “punkiest” of moves.
The rock opera is based on a doppelganger or a lookalike of our protagonist who suffers severe manic depression. The opener “The Angry Hour” is a nauseating anxiety ridden piece of drone-like music, a singular note, dragged out, paving the path of despair that is to follow. It’s disorienting to say the least. “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” finds Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles chiding soulfully; There is “Enough weight to crush” his face , while succumbing to the fact that he hates to be awake.This is blissful self hatred, as though there is no light at the end, but pure angst, accompanied by the expression of depressive undertones can be weirdly liberating. Our protagonist is clearly isolated; he wails ”cowering in the glowering gloom/ex human left entombed” which recalls a past life of stability, and a nostalgic longing , but then harshly met with the grotesque reminder of reality; “doors closed and there’s no window”.
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Though a left-field reference , “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” resembles the punk-ska movement of the early 00’s. Take streetlight manifesto “Everything Goes Numb”. It was Punk played at a blistering , yet cathartically anthemic pace alongside self-depreciating lyricism. Andronicus definitely take a similar approach, yet they veer beyond the “emo” like lyrics. Verses throughout the record are poetic in nature, and are clearly influenced by philosophical and psychological literature such as friedrich Nietzsche’s “The birth of Tragedy”.
Andronicus prove their versatility with tracks like “Lonely Boy”; which reconfigures early 60s blues rock from the Yard Birds and the Rolling Stones – in which off kilter boogie jam solos collide with the “pop-punk” sound of 90’s rock. We also get covers of Daniel Johnson’s “I Lost My Mind” which takes Johnson’s warped psychotic lyricism while engulfing it around the aggressive aesthetic of punk. It’s a rather fitting cover. If that wasn’t enough, Andronicus perform a sloppy rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”, where the sentiments of the iconic poem turned hymn by Robert Burns, slot in nicely with the manner in which our protagonist longs for the past, or at least has an appreciation for it.
In an interview earlier this year, Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles explained how he wanted the album to work both on a micro and macro level. The idea being that the large scale ambition would not overshadow the accessibility of the record. “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is both tall yet reachable; complex, but void of pretensions and as Stickles wanted, macro while remaining micro. One would assume a one minute long “intermission” full of silence would be infuriating, however it feels rather fitting. Stickles has certainly avoided the curse of so called “Avant garde” records that have aimed for the the skies but failed to go deeper; maximalism is a very desirable trait in modern music, yet very few manage to pull it off. Titus Andronicus have certainly done so. “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” is intentively sprawling, but one does not need to understand the inner workings of greek mythology to appreciate the record.
‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’ is out on the 28th July 2015, via Merge Records.