I can’t tell you if New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus has a truly broad appeal. I just know that it does a doozy on me.
I love the statement of naming your band after Shakespeare’s goriest play. Titus Andronicus is out for blood, and every English nerd out there will know it from the start.
I love Bruce Springsteen, and this band’s every move careens down the melodramatic E Street turnpikes paved by The Boss.
But the biggest thing that turns me on to the group is that I connect every instance of my life with some lyric, scene or chapter. And holy hell does Patrick Stickles love to make references.
Music ReviewTitus Andronicus
Dive Review: 4 of 5 Stars
In “A More Perfect Union,” the first song on sophomore effort The Monitor, the ever-ranting Titus frontman alludes to “The Dark Knight,” Confederate President Jefferson Davis and “Born to Run.” It’s a rumbling, rambling affair that shoves big band rock ‘n’ roll through a ferociously broken-hearted punk filter. The distortion’s ramped up, and the throttle’s been slammed to the floor, but it’s still the kind of long-form classic rock epic Pete Townshend would love.
From this forcefully familiar pulpit, Stickles compounds post-modern depression into an instantly intelligible vernacular.
“I’m not looking to change the world. I’m just looking for a new New Jersey because tramps like us, baby we were born to die!” Stickles screams in the first of the song’s many climaxes. It’s a cheap trick, riding the most famous declaration from one of rock’s most famous artists. But sometimes a sledgehammer works best, and by rudely forcing such well-known turns of phrase into his vitriol, Stickles gains instantaneous impact.
And he earns every gimmick. Stickles eviscerates humanity with fervor and style. He takes grand shots at the systems of society and politics without offering any solutions.
But that’s the point. He has either given up or doesn’t care and has decided to turn the end of days into one hell of a rocking shindig.
There is perhaps no better example of this than “Titus Andronicus Forever.” “The enemy is everywhere!” the band roars with repetitively psychotic passion before a razor sharp guitar solo rips right through the middle. It turns a witch hunt into a house party, and it’s hard not to dance right along.
It’s such musicianship that gives Titus its power. They can make rock songs shriek and writhe for seven minutes at a time without getting repetitive. And they’ve got the versatility to conquer many facets of the genre.
“Theme From ‘Cheers’” is straight-up alcohol-driven country rock. As a fiddle stumbles about, Stickles and Dan McGee from Chapel Hill’s Spider Bags apologize to “momma” for being drunken nobodies.
“So let’s get f--ked up and pretend that we’re all OK. If you got something that you can’t live with, save it for another day,” Stickles growls, choking on the bitter aftertaste of regret.
That’s what I love about Titus. They boil down the frustration of staring at a world full of unsolvable problems and then pound it to hell with painfully intelligent rage.
This world’s a tough place. And while it might not do the trick for everyone, sometimes screaming along to a tormented rock song is good enough for me to get by.
Contact the Diversions Editor at email@example.com.
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