Review Summary: As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide
When I listen to Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor
, I feel a lot of things. Nostalgia. Anger. Triumph. No emotion jumps out as more prevalent than the others, but they all exist with identical demands to be recognized as how I feel
about the record. To be honest it doesn’t matter, because the scope of The Monitor
is so much larger than what one feeling
can contain. Titus Andronicus’ sophomore album is a spectrum of all things passionate and reckless, and more crucial than what
I feel is simply that I do feel
. Each and every time. That’s really the only thing The Monitor
guarantees, but it’s better than anything else I could possibly ask for.
is a complete and total mess. It’s the drunken, fists-clenched ramblings of a group of men who just want to get in a fight. At the same time however, it is revolutionary in the most basic sense of the word; every time I listen to The Monitor
I’m ready to spark social upheaval, overthrow the government, and set everything back to the idealistic standards set by our forefathers. Somewhere between the chaos and the inspiration, there’s music happening. I’m not sure of the exact moment it occurs, but at some point during the album I’m always reminded that music still has the power to change the world. Take the opener, “A More Perfect Union”, for example. There’s a tremendous sense of political urgency that emanates from it, even though it’s not exactly patriotic. Whereas in 1838 Abraham Lincoln could wax poetic about a nation filled with promise (“If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher…as a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide”), Titus Andronicus find themselves on the cynical 2010 side of the coin. There’s a moment on “A More Perfect Union” when front man Patrick Stickles states “None of us shall be saved, every man will be a slave…for John Brown's body lies a'mouldring in the grave”, and it perfectly summarizes the overarching sentiment of Americans in this day and age. The potential that once gave the United States its luster has long been squandered – and as a nation of free men
, we authorized our own demise. It’s only fitting, then, that the song concludes with satirical chants of “rally around the flag” and “glory, glory, hallelujah” – each repetition drained of more emotion than the one prior to it. Atop pounding drum lines and rollicking, rebellious-sounding electric riffs, it is an adrenaline-pumping anthem that defines what The Monitor
is all about – raw emotion, directed at anything and everything in its path.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a “political album.” It’s a record about recognizing our most primitive negative feelings – despair, rage, hate, indifference – and deciding on how to channel them. The vocal delivery of Stickles is the perfect embodiment of that theme, because to put it bluntly, he doesn’t give a shit about how he sounds here. From one blatantly missed note to another, from one horribly off-key verse to the next, he stumbles through The Monitor
with the grace of an inebriated man who’s just had his heart shattered. Yet that’s exactly what is so perfect about it. How he sounds, in each individual moment, is how he feels. There’s nothing on-pitch or pretty about it. It’s desolate, depressed, belligerent, and flat out ugly at times. On “A Pot In Which To Piss”, when Stickles blurts out “Nothing means anything anymore, everything is less than zero…and I know it won't do much good, getting drunk and sad and singing, but I'm at the end of my rope and I feel like swinging” it is the perfect embodiment of how we all feel when life seems hopeless, we’re at the bottom of our last beer bottle, and the bartender is announcing last call. On “No Future, Pt. 3: Escape From No Future”, it’s a similarly embittered lament, “everything makes me nervous and nothing feels good for no reason, waking up it's barely worth it - the same dark dread every morning” followed up with a succinct “you’ll always be a loser” repeated over and over. On The Monitor
, Titus Andronicus isn’t about suppressing negativity – but recognizing it and airing it out for everyone to hear in all of its raw, unsheathed ugliness. The emotional honesty and frank lyricism is a refreshing change of pace for anyone needing an album that, quite simply, tells it like it is.
Perhaps there is no better song to convey this than the epic closer, “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Amidst a constantly shifting percussive pace, a messy mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and the damned if I give a shit
vocals, there’s a timeless lesson hidden. It’s a long lyrical passage, but it’s all relevant: “Is there a girl at this college who hasn't been raped? Is there a boy in this town that's not exploding with hate? 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?” I’ve never come across a set of accusations that more aptly define how I feel about modern society – and myself too. We’re all far too enamored with how we’re perceived to the point that it literally handicaps our collective potential. The underlying message is this: go be who you are, and go all out when you live your life. If you’re a drunk, “drink to excess.” If you smoke, “smoke gaping holes in your chest.” You determine the limits of your life. The question is whether you are willing to die at the risk of truly living.
Between the politics, the alcohol, and the naked emotion present on The Monitor
, it’s nearly impossible to determine the impact that is has on me. All I know is that it makes me want to go do something that matters. It makes me uncomfortable living a normal, day to day life with an office job and a small apartment. It causes me to feel emotions that I don’t necessarily want to feel, and then confront them. I don’t know what about it affects me the most, and I couldn’t possibly identify one single thing stands out as an overarching connection between it and my mind. It’s a catalyst. The Monitor
shakes me out of the monotonous haze of everyday life, and reminds me that life isn’t meant to just happen – it’s meant to be lived