Review Summary: Titus Andronicus put out an approximation of their older work that has most of its energy and almost none of the charm.
At this point, I’m not really sure what to make of Titus Andronicus anymore. On one, you have a band that cultivated some of the most potent indie-rock of the decade on the cavalry charge that was The Monitor
and seemed keen on burning the whole genre to the ground on The Most Lamentable Tragedy
’s three(!!!) discs; on the other, you have a band that is, well, kind of bad at this point. The cracks began to show on 2012’s Local Business
as the punk energy was dialed back in favor of something a little more Americana and folky at points, but that record had enough bite and charm to be an amusing jaunt down a sound that they had always kind of laid the groundwork for. It wasn’t until A Productive Cough
that the wheels seemed to come off fully and found a band that once seemed to have so much to shout about fumbling for the right words to say.
Which leads us to An Obelisk
, an album that is aggressively… okay. Striking a pretty even balance between the band’s punkier roots and their Bob Dylan worship, the album turns out to be a little bit of everything that the band has ever put out. Unfortunately, I mean that in the worst way. It’s abundantly clear that the band is having a great time here and there’s certainly a palpable amount of energy, but nothing ever really sticks. The closest the album gets to its trademark anthems are probably “(I Blame) Society” and the pretty fun closer in “Tumult Around the World”, but are still filler compared to the stratospheric heights Titus Andronicus used to put out with such ease. Much of the rest album sounds like a live set for an okay college band that likes a little bit of punk, a little bit of blues, and has no idea what to do with either. Take “Hey Ma”, for example, which sounds like a standard blues rocker suddenly giving way to an outro that sounds like an approximation of the long-winded jams on The Monitor
without ever really earning its stripes like those bagpipes and jacknife guitars used to.
When all is said and done, An Obelisk
is certainly an album in Titus Andronicus’ discography. It’s not quite as bad as A Productive Cough
, nor is it much better either. The songs here have lots of energy that I’m sure will be fun live, but they ultimately come across as a sort of pastiche of the blisterning earnestness of a band that once had much more fire in their belly. There’s ultimately not much of a reason to return to this one other than to have a reminder that the band still exists and are still into the same kind of music they’ve always been into. An Obelisk
is less of a landmark than it is a faded picture of one.