Review Summary: Learn the words, sing along, and be angry. Then realise how much better it feels.
There is an important part of you which reveals itself at the age of fourteen or fifteen that everybody in the world, yourself sometimes included, spends the next ten years stamping out like the dangerous beginnings of a fire. It's the side of you that wants to believe the wildest conspiracy theories, the edge of you that wants to just scream FU
every time you wake up and nothing that matters has changed. In short, it's the desire for conflict, for something to care so deeply about that you would die for it to succeed. Through school and college these urges are suppressed as you realise or pretend to realise that being that angry is no healthy way to live. But every now and again, in the most reckless and indignant fractions of seconds, that crippling discontent rears its head, and it's pure chance whether your instinct leads you to break its neck or let it off its lead.
The reason those emotions are so often locked in a dark room is because they're so fragile, so difficult to deal with in a way that doesn't cause lasting damage, and so tough to articulate in a manner that sounds as powerful as the feelings really are. Titus Andronicus' The Monitor
is the dramatic and desperate essence of those feelings being comprehensively explored by a band and lyricist unusually endowed with the ability to describe that festering anger to fight, diffracted through a loose connection to the American Civil War and played loud, big and raw. If that sounds like an enormous and ambitious proposition, then I'm doing my job right; The Monitor
Titus Andronicus are more aware that they lift heavily from the sound of Bruce Springsteen than even you will be after reading every single critic's noting of that influence, so much that they twist the Boss' words on more than one occasion in lyrics and titles and directly name him in 14-minute closer 'The Battle Of Hampton Roads'. They probably also know that vocalist Patrick Stickles bears a not-insignificant resemblence in tone to Conor Oberst in his Desaparecidos days, and they play with the energy and recklessness of The Pogues at their most inebriated. All of these things collide to mould an aesthetic which rises and falls with Stickles' mood. Like the gradual build from piano through harmonica to full-on chorus at the start of 'Four Score And Seven', The Monitor
is one of those records which isn't just an enjoyable full listen; it's essential to experience it in its entirety, or else you risk missing something vital
, something so instinctively great it affects everything afterwards and before it. It could be a harmonica or a bagpipe; who knows?
It climbs mountains just to urinate from them ('Four Score And Seven') and talks through its problems with incredible ease, pausing only for thought on the gorgeous 'To Old Friends And New', a piano-led duet with Jenn Wassner of Wye Oak; for the rest of the time, no matter the tempo, the tension is palpable and the volume generally high. But all of these aspects are only present in order to accentuate the real pull of The Monitor
, the earth-shattering one-liners that Stickles delivers with equal measures of desperation and vitriol. He leads gangs and followers alike in self-deprecating anthemic chants which sound simplistic written down but make complete sense placed in context, slogans like, IT'S STILL US AGAINST THEM; IT'S STILL US AGAINST THEM, AND THEY'RE WINNING! THEY'RE WINNING!
But the most powerful aspect of The Monitor
, the thing that turns it from a superb album into a veritable religious text
for anybody down on their luck or restless with the idea that this is everything, is the way Stickles and Titus Andronicus can explode in just the right way to find cause for celebration in even the most defeatist of statements.
So far-reaching and expansive is The Monitor
that it is not always clear what enemy we're fighting, but it doesn't always matter, because as Titus Andronicus point out, having an enemy at all means the battle is already half-won. As it plays out, that part of you that used to crave friction becomes more prominent, coaxed out of its shell by the way Patrick Stickles seems jubilant as he cries, "YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A LOSER!"
It makes it alright to accept those nagging thoughts at the back of your head as real, and it provides a reference book for their definitions, a defiant and provocative rallying call to the rebellious waste of space inside all of us. It might not provide very many answers but by the end of The Monitor
at least you know how to properly phrase the question, and it goes like this:
Is there a human alive that can look themselves in the face without winking? Or say what they mean without drinking? Or believe in something without thinking, "What if somebody doesn't approve?" Is there a soul on this earth that isn't too frightened to move?