The Titus Andronicus Blurb That Doesn’t Mention Bright Eyes

Patrick Stickles does not sing like the guy who we’re not mentioning in this “blurb”. And I’m not saying that ’cause Stickles wants someone to say it, I’m saying it because it’s true. He sings like an angry drunk dude in his 20’s and that’s a wonderful thing. He sounds kinda like Tom Stuart from Radio America (okay, Patrick, I’ll buy the Paul Westerberg thing too. And I’ll buy you a beer if you come to L.A. – for serious). Pitchfork doesn’t know who Radio America is and that’s their loss.

Ahem.

I’ll admit that I’d never heard of the band Titus Andronicus (I had heard of the play – it’s Shakespeare’s Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay collaboration, 400 years early. Did I spell Bruckheimer wrong? I don’t care.) before I read their interview with the Pitchfork kids at Pitchfork’s very own festival. I came to a conclusion after reading that interview and I can say without fear of contradiction: these guys are dope.  Example? They played fucking “Common People,” in their set because they knew Jarvis Cocker wasn’t going to play it in his (apparently, Mr. Cocker doesn’t play Pulp tunes at his shows. If that is true, law dictates that he must play “Running the World,” every night. People need that song, Jarvis. Give it to them.).

Anyway. Titus Andronicus are from New Jersey, just like Bon Jovi. The comparison pretty much ends there. Unlike Bon Jovi, Titus Andronicus have something interesting to say (sorry folks – “oh, oh; living on a prayer” = not interesting), they can play their instruments, and they are distinctly lacking the hard-on to be Bruce Springsteen that Jon Bon Jovi has walked around (one must assume painfully) with for the last 30 years. (Incidentally, this Springsteen hard-on is apparently contagious – the guy from The Killers got it just a couple of years ago with disastrous results.)

The line between Awesome and Pretentious is hard to spot; some bands know how to handle the dangerous areas near the border. For instance, The Hold Steady (America’s best rock band) is awesome and Craig Finn steers them near the rocky shores of Pretension without ever cracking them up on the rocks. Fall Out Boy is lost wandering the ghettos of Pretension; they’re never gonna make it out of the harbor and if they do, they’ll drown, blinded and destroyed by what awaits the unprepared in the Land of Awesome. Titus Andronicus has some pretentious song titles (“Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” and “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” come to mind. Well, really, most of their songs and their band name come to mind) but the delivery is just so… so… compellingly rad that the siren song of Pretension is drowned out by  Titus Andronicus yelling, “Your life is over.” From the shouted “Fuck you!” of “Fear and Loathing” to the final scream of “we only want what we’re not allowed” that ends “Albert Camus” (see? Pretentious titles!), this band means business. I’ve railed time and again against the stuff that passes for punk music now, but if ever a band oozed a truly punk ethos, it’s Titus Andronicus. These guys have the chops and they’re not afraid to sound dirty. Which is not to say they can’t play – at first blush, The Airing of Grievances sounds like a big fucking wall of noise – and it is – but underneath all the racket is a band that has clearly studied the Beatles (the Lennon tunes mostly) as well as the Clash, the Replacements, and The Et Ceteras. This melodic gift is never more humorously exploited than on “Titus Androncius,” where, amidst a pretty standard doo-doo-doodoodoo background vocal, Mr. Stickles croons, “Fuck everything/ fuck me.”

The Airing of Grievances is a record to put on and bounce around the room to, being not the least bit careful about breaking stuff (yourself included). Lyrically, it’s pretty dark (“no God of mine would put light in such unrighteous eyes,” “You’ll spend the rest of your life trying hard to forget/ that you met the world naked and screaming and that’s how you’ll leave it,” and the absolute death knell of “Titus Andronicus”: “No more cigarettes/ no more having sex/ no more drinking till you fall on the floor/ no more indie rock/ just a ticking clock/ you have no time for that anymore”). Musically, it’s fucking loud.  I’m not gonna lie – I’ve had a lot of excess anger in the last month or so, they kind that it’s hard to know where to put. The Airing of Grievances gives a pretty good voice to how that feels and, upon separating it from my own personal circumstances of late, I can still view it as one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a long time, and easily one of the best albums of 2008.

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