Review Summary: Titus Andronicus come roaring back.
At some point in the history of every great band, there has come a time when they’ve simply thrown caution to the wind. Sometimes it’s a massive concept album, like The Who’s Tommy
, while other times it’s a wild departure in style, such as Radiohead’s Kid A
. It remains to be seen if Titus Andronicus have as many gears as the latter (probably not), but if The Most Lamentable Tragedy
proves anything, it’s that these guys possess the creative chops to be mentioned alongside some of the greatest conceptual artists of all time. I mean think about it...only five years ago they unveiled the elaborate, civil war-themed The Monitor
, and even though they retreated slightly inwards with Local Business
, they’re now throwing a twenty-nine track rock opera in our faces. Is it really that far-fetched to say that they’re this generation’s punk answer to The Who, or that The Most Lamentable Tragedy
– complete with doppelgangers symbolizing bipolar disorder – approaches the level of introspection explored by Pink Floyd’s The Wall
? Unless you’re one of those types who has written off any and all music after 1979, it’s at least worth debating. One thing is for sure though: with everything they’ve accomplished to this point, Titus Andronicus is now an indisputably great band – and The Most Lamentable Tragedy
is their magnum opus.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy
takes all of the band’s pent up rage and just lets it fly. It’s Titus Andronicus at their most liberated, and it bursts forth with a kind of energy that could have only emanated from a band that has accomplished everything that it wants to, and resultantly no longer gives a fuck. There’s something immensely satisfying about hearing a group of musicians with so much talent putting everything they have on a grand stage for mass consumption, even if parts of it fall victim to the inevitable clichés of conceptualized rock operas. Yes there are copious amounts of interludes, and a number of them don’t add much value to the experience. You might have also guessed that there are characters who contribute to a very specific plotline, thus eliminating any room for unique interpretation. If concept albums ruffle your feathers, then The Most Lamentable Tragedy
isn’t here to extend an olive branch. This is unapologetically grandiose, over-the-top for the hell of it, and it stands directly in the spotlight while brazenly demanding attention. It’s the perfect type of album for a group of enraged drunkards like Titus Andronicus to tackle.
Not only do Patrick Stickles and company attempt this ambitious project, but they also turn it into a masterpiece worthy of contending for The Monitor
’s throne at their discography's summit. It doesn’t take long to realize that it's worthy of such high praise, either. “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” kicks things off in rollicking fashion, with Stickles belligerently shouting “I hate to be awake” atop angry drumming and soaring electric guitars. Even though the overarching tone of The Most Lamentable Tragedy
could be described as furious – as “Look Alive” and “Dimed Out” aptly demonstrate – there’s still plenty of ebb and flow to help listeners digest all of the madness unraveling around them. Catchy singalong numbers like “I Lost My Mind (+@)” and “Fatal Flaw” inject an ideal dose of tune sense, while the slow-burning “More Perfect Union” and thoughtful crooner “Stable Boy” provide the album with its deepest and arguably most impactful moments. Of course there’s also curveballs that will throw you for a total loop, like the tempo change that closes out “Lonely Boy”, or the sudden eruption into hymns on “Sun Salutation” – which interestingly enough is preceded by a minute and seventeen seconds of absolute silence. Sometimes it’s clear that Titus Andronicus is just fucking with you, but those are also the moments that make this album such a fun, off-kilter listen.
One of the most likeable aspects of The Most Lamentable Tragedy
is that, unlike most extravagant concept albums of this nature, it doesn’t sacrifice its human
element. There’s a reason that tracks like “The Battle of Hampton Roads” are held in such high regard by fans, and while I can’t claim that any particular track here matches that emotional level, the same overall damned if I care
attitude which tells it like it is (often whilst inebriated) is alive and well. Stickles still stumbles awkwardly through his verses, blatantly missing notes while achieving the grander goal of conveying feelings that will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt angry, deserted, or cheated by the world. There’s no denying his authenticity when he sings lines like, ‘Violently neutered and caged, stuffed with subliminal hate / I’m nothing but a puppet at play, crying in a beautiful place’ on “Stranded (On My Own)”, or that he’s not afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind when he spits out ‘This ever gaping emptiness, I got to throw something into it now…I need to fuck someone tonight’ on “(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID.” Patrick Stickles is the same raw vocalist and lyricist who we’ve all come to appreciate, even if his style was an acquired taste. The instrumental approach and overall production has also remained virtually undoctored, making The Most Lamentable Tragedy
the best kind of concept album: one that builds its massive scope on real, tangible substance – not by cutting corners and applying makeup where it isn't needed.
In an era where most concept albums are frowned upon and viewed as a gimmick, Titus Andronicus have delivered an absolute game changer. The Most Lamentable Tragedy
is the product of one of the best punk bands of our time making music in their prime, and when you factor in the level of ambition present, you’re left with a rock opera for the ages. Rarely do so many factors align perfectly, and it’s little wonder that Titus Andronicus’ place in history is worth seriously discussing now. Between The Monitor
and The Most Lamentable Tragedy
, they’ve now crafted two borderline flawless concept albums – which when you consider the rather small window for success in such endeavors – is no minor feat. Titus Andronicus could hang up their instruments tomorrow and be hailed as one of the most creative punk rock bands of the new millennium. However, I have a feeling that they still have plenty of gas left in the tank. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to climb aboard and see where this crazy group of punk-rockers go. Wherever they end up, I’m sure the ride will be epic.