Album Review: Titus Andronicus, ‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’
Generally speaking, the pride of punk music is its simplicity. The quick-paced riffs and favoring of speed over technicality are the genre’s staples, but Titus Andronicus are bending those conventions to near-unrecognizable lengths. Not that The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a head-scratcher, because there’s plenty of straight-forward punk, but there’s also a bunch of just about everything else.
On their follow-up to 2012’s Local Business, the New Jersey-based group tends to play something akin to anthemic punk — think My Morning Jacket with angst, especially on tracks like “Mr. E. Mann,” “Fired Up” and “Come On, Siobhán” — but they still go absolutely all over the place on this effort. And they have plenty of time to do so: The album’s 29 tracks clock in at over 90 minutes, which would absolutely be tedious and long-winded if not for their propulsive variety.
“Lonely Boy” has shades of Led Zeppelin, the nine-minute “More Perfect Union” takes cues from Neutral Milk Hotel and Sigur Rós, the other nine-minute epic “(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID” draws from Danzig, Blue Öyster Cult, Wolfmother, Black Sabbath, Fleet Foxes and Mark Kozelek, “Funny Feeling” is like one of the Men’s swelling punk epics, and “Come On, Siobhán” also has a bit of Wilco thrown in there.
That’s 11 name-drops in those five songs alone, which could have resulted in a fragmented mess of an album if not for the fact that every mood transitions into and out of the ones they are sandwiched between so effectively. Instead of an ill-conceived compilation of dad rock that just doesn’t make sense, the tale of “Our Hero” — this is a concept album, by the way — is told with a narrative variety in pacing and setting.
Some tracks even have a tendency to change what they’re doing entirely partway through, which is to be expected in songs like the aforementioned nine-minute numbers, but even tracks like “Lonely Boy” start off as mid-tempo, '70s, lightly drug-influenced rock before rapidly picking up the pace and using saxophone better than most guitar songs have lately. There are many things happening on The Most Lamentable Tragedy, but never the same thing happening again and again.
Titus Andronicus’ fourth album makes a strong first impression, but it still feels like a grower, if only because there’s so much here to unpack between its length and the wide-ranging variety it contains. If punk is a rebellion, then this, being a sort of rebellion against the straightforward simplicity of punk, is more punk than punk itself.