Titus Andronicus – Local Business
In 2010, New Jersey natives Titus Andronicus’ Springsteen-channelling-the-American Civil War epic The Monitor drew universal acclaim, delivering a fully-formed lyrical antihero of angst in the shape of wildly bearded, insanely drunk frontman Patrick Stickles.
Stickles’ love affairs with The Boss and Billy Bragg were most evident in those charged tales of personal and political discomfort on that record, but he seems to have thrown his eggs in to one Strummer-shaped basket this time around.
The Clash leader’s influence on songs like ‘Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter’ and ‘Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape’ — all snot-nosed fury, brutish contempt and knowingly impotent rebellion — is absolutely transparent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the influence towers over the record.
Unlike its rich, expansive predecessor, Local Business is relatively anaemic musically speaking, especially in the thin, sometimes shallow production and often unimaginative instrumentation. Moments when things get a little too close to cringeworthy — as on the ‘Ballroom Blitz’-like ‘Food Fight’ and the aforementioned ‘Upon Viewing..’, with its Thin Lizzy-mirroring twin lead guitars — are entirely disposable indulgences.
Yet there’s much to recommend the Jersey punks’ third opus, with ‘Ecce Homo’ a blistering opener supercharged with aggression, and twin centerpieces ‘In A Big City’ and ‘In A Small Body’ showing that Stickles still rules when it comes to bitterness and barely repressed anhedonia; the former nestling Hamlet quotes in amongst lines like “I’ve been building bombs between beers and blowjobs”, the latter a shambolic strut that shakes off the jitters and morphs into a memorable, sad and beautiful tale of inadequacy, buoyed with luscious strings. Also great is the close of the wildly variable ‘My Eating Disorder’; Stickles first muttering then screaming “Spit it out” with the damaged directness and simplicity of that Nirvana guy.
While tracks like ‘(I Am The) Electric Man’ and ‘Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)’ are exactly as dumb as they sound, closer ‘Tried To Quit Smoking’, a near-ten minute howl of misanthropy, finds Stickles offering “It’s not that I do not love you/It’s just that I hate everyone” before the band builds to a caterwauling, spine tingling send-off.
For all its occasional precocity, Local Business feels directionless at times, tripping over its own feet and influences a little too often, suggesting that Stickles can achieve most when working to certain parameters as on The Monitor, rather than when allowed to unleash his fury in an unfocused flurry. Michael James Hall