Apr 17, 2010

The Monitor-Titus Andronicus

"As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide". So said Abraham Lincoln in 1838, so begins the opening of "The Monitor", the incendiary, dynamic, commanding and totally persuasive second album from New Jersey's Titus Andronicus. If their debut was a shot across the bows, then this follow up is a blast through the walls, a storming of the gates. A statement of such ambition and scope that it is truly and utterly compelling. I fall at its majesty.

This imperious album is a concept of sorts. The title is taken from the USS Monitor, the first ironclad warship commissioned by the US Navy. In 1862 it engaged the CSS Virginia in The Battle Of Hampton Roads, also the title of the closing track. Both warships fought to a standstill, before retreating in damage mode. This album is a parable for our times, associating the turmoil of 148 years ago with the disfunction of today. It is angry, abrasive and at times cathartic. It is full of such passion and energy that each and every listen reveals another splatter shot of emotion. This is perfectly illustrated in the cannon blast opener "A More Perfect Union". After the Lincoln quote we are given spits of anger, super charged with a rallying guitar riff and ferocious drumming. An angry man stuck in Massachusetts longs for his home in New Jersey. "Because tramps like us baby we were born to die". Indeed!

Anger gives way to desperation on "No Future Part Three", a desperately sad and lonely tale of uselessness. Its ending refrain of "You will always be a loser" might become a live staple singalong but it breaks my heart whenever I hear it. This song rollicks at such a pace that you might forget to stop and listen to the lyrics. I implore you make sure you do stop and listen. "Richard II" begins with a hypnotic drum beat and its jolly tune is in direct contrast to the bloodthirsty tale of the fourteenth century English king who ruled for a brief and starkly tyrannic time. After this impressive start we come to the heart of the album. "A Pot In Which To Piss In" is half a tale of sad desolation and half a fiery and humorous shove in the face to any detractors. As Patrick Stickles notes "You ain't never been no virgin, kid, you were fucked from the start". This song is also the most diverse on the album, featuring honky tonk piano, soaring horns and long drawn out jammy guitar. To complete the picture we receive Craig Finn quoting Walt Whitman at the end. The segue from this to the next song "Four Score And Score" takes my breath away every single time. As Stickles whispers "This is a war we can't win, after ten thousand years, it's still us against them" we realise the heart of this astonishing album. Humanity can sink to its lowest ebb, be debased and nearly destroyed and yet fight on. But, but ultimately never learn a lesson from the wrongs of history. As we fight to claw and survive we forget the ways and means that we are connected. "It's still us against them" he cries in vain. After this torrent of powder keg rock we probably need a breather. The almost jocular "Theme From Cheers" brings us back to the simpler tale of drinking and carousing. But we push onto the end and what an end it is. "The Battle of Hampton Roads" is fourteen minutes of bleeding humanity, of blood soaked drama. The welding of the story of monumental futile naval battles and the desolate destruction of a young modern man is told with furious belief. With forthright and direct consequences. Oh and yes the horn section fused with drumming is designed to take your breath away. But the bagpipe solo is surely there to make your heart stop.

"The Monitor" is as ambitious and as near perfect an album that I have ever heard. The band and guests pull all the elements together perfectly. It is a glorious accomplishment to make music this visceral and impassioned. This intelligent and surprisingly this fun. All tied together by the vision of lead man Patrick Stickles. His voice is like a chainsaw attacking a mighty oak tree. It curdles the blood and unleashes the demons. It is the mighty stuff of gaping humanity. So is this wondrous album.

"I am in earnest. I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard."-William Lloyd Garrison, 1831.

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