Titus Andronicus - Local Business

Titus Andronicus could really give a fuck about degree of difficulty. Here’s how we know that Titus are one of our finest working bands: They can record an album of jaunty singalong beer-punk anthems about the vast indifference of the cold world. They can open things up with this line: “OK, by now I think we’ve established everything is inherently worthless / There’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose.” They can include a 10-minute song, an eight-minute one, and a couple that dance around the six-minute mark. And compared to what the band has done before, that album can come out sounding a bit slight, at least compared to what the band has done before.

The big problem with Local Business, Titus’s third album, isn’t the album’s fault, and it’s not really anything to do with the album itself. The problem is The Monitor, Titus’s 2010 sophomore LP and probably my favorite rock record of the last five years or so. There’s just no following The Monitor. It’s not possible. That’s the album where Titus showed that the fists-up Jersey basement-punk singalongs that I love so much could work as something bigger and deeper, covering vast swaths of musical and lyrical ground without sacrificing any of their from-the-gut immediacy. It’s what would happen if the Bouncing Souls, in their prime, decided that they could be the Who, in their prime, and it somehow links frontman Patrick Stickles’s breakup with the American Civil War without making it sound like that ridiculous a stretch. And so when the band follows that up with an album that’s merely very, very good — as opposed to life-changing great — it registers, at first, as something like a disappointment. That’s not fair to the band or the album, and it’s also not fair to the listener, since it throws a ton of expectation-weight all over what would otherwise be a deeply pleasurable listening experience. But it’s the sort of thing that I, as a music dork, just can’t stop myself from doing.

So here’s the good news: Local Business is an extremely accomplished rock album from a band who knows what it’s doing. It has its own overarching themes (loneliness and isolation, mostly), but it’s not a sweeping concept album the way The Monitor was. And once you get over the fact that it’s not The Monitor, there’s a weird joy-relief hybrid in realizing that Titus is built to last; that they can simply knock out a smart and impactful rock record without attempting to rewrite the rule-book every time out. And that’s not to say that the album doesn’t have moments that stick in your gut. That opening line is basically Stickles’s pessimistic, damn-near-Dostoevskian version of “teenage angst has paid off well / now I’m bored and old.” “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus” opens with a vignette in which Stickles watches someone die in a highway car crash, and then watches the rest of the cars on the road treat that death as a personal inconvenience: “They get a long look at the tow truck as they sit and grit their teeth / Hating that which comes between them and their coffee.” Stickles isn’t exactly shying away from big ideas here.

And the band hasn’t lost its charge, either. The Titus of Local Business have slowed their attack, almost imperceptibly, the way punk bands almost always do when they hit album number three. They show a serious command of hearty Replacements chest-wailers, of triumphant Thin Lizzy guitar leads, of incandescently pounding E Street Band piano-solos. For the most part, the songs aren’t as immediately catchy or thickly arranged as the ones on The Monitor, and we don’t get anything like Jenn Wasner’s showstopping guest vocal on “To Old Friends And New.” But that’s not to say that these aren’t catchy songs with big scopes; they are. So maybe it’s best to think of Local Business as the Jackie Brown to The Monitor’s Pulp Fiction: The quietly powerful follow-up to the attention-grabbing watershed, the one that proves its makers are grown-ups in it for the long haul. And, I mean, have you watched Jackie Brown lately? That movie fucking rules. It holds up, years after the context has faded. If I were a betting man, I’d say Local Business will do the same, and that’s all we can ask of it.

This is also, I should note, a Premature Evaluation more premature than most. Titus albums don’t reveal themselves completely at first, and there are a couple of big moments that still have to happen. For one thing, I haven’t heard it yet with a lyric sheet in my hand. Stickles is a lyrics guy, but he bellows in such a throat-shredded wail that his words can be tough to make out. When I finally get to hear the album with lyrics intact, I’m guessing that a few more moments will stick with me as vividly as that car-crash description. And my whole Local Business experience also won’t be complete until I see the band live, after the kids in the crowd have had a chance to hear those big choruses. Titus manage audience singalongs better than maybe any other band working today, with the possible exception of Fucked Up. These are meaningful songs that mean more when you’re in a sweaty mass yelling those words back at the guy who wrote them. That’s part of the reason The Monitor kept sounding better for me months after its release. This is a band that needs context, and that context is, as of now, incomplete. So just know this: They’ve made a very strong follow-up to an album that nobody could’ve been expected to follow-up. If it sounds, to you, a bit like a let-down or a step back, it’s not the album’s fault. It’s yours, and it’s mine.

Local Business is out 10/23 on XL.

Comments (47)
  1. Bands following up great albums with very good albums seems to be an ongoing theme this year.

  2. Michael_  |   Posted on Oct 9th, 2012 +10

    But does this not represent the current state of punk music in the general tri-state area in 2012? If you’re able to separate it away from universal indie rock epicness of the The Monitor, it’s very easy to say that this album stylistically stands very tall with the Men, Nude Beach and the So So Glos in the style classic garage punk it conveys, which to me really hits the entire “local business” message right on the head. It sounds to me like Titus Andronicus wanted this album to sound geocentric to their surroundings, and yes, while it’s a much smaller-spaced listen, it’s a pretty great representation of their scene and I give them big ups for that. Plus, the way Patrick quivers “All right…” in “(I Am the) Electric Man” kind of just makes my heart melt.

    • Jacob Tehrani  |   Posted on Oct 10th, 2012 +2

      I think you nailed it, down to the “living on a Diarrhea Planet” line in “In a Small Body”. I genuinely only ever felt the smallest hint of a let-down with the record because a massive part of Titus for me is the time and investment put into each song, which left me wanting a little more considering that “Food Fight”, “TA vs. AU”, and “Electric Man” fall short of the usual prose, especially with a record coming out after two and a half years. But accepting those tracks as essential parts of what the album represents (and keeping in mind that the next release date will definitely be shorter) solidifies it, to me, as an entirely worthy and distinct third entry. And his “thass right” on “Electric” sort of seals the whole deal–I’m delighted you pointed it out.

  3. Initially coming here through a link in a tweet by Tom I thought he was going to be comparing the album to the great singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, not the Tarantino movie. I am hugely disappointed now.

  4. if the monitor was their tommy, this could be their who’s next

    either way, i’m going to listen to the shit out of this record when it comes out

  5. This is a great Premature Evaluation. I feel like it does a lot to help contextualize it for the fans who had a raging hard-on for an entire year after hearing The Monitor. I am one of those fans, and I thank you for this. I cannot wait for this album.

  6. Yeah agree with everything you said there Tom. At first listen it didn’t really grab me, but really starting to get into it now. I’m really enjoying the longer songs on the album, My Eating Disorder probably being my favourite.

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  8. I think they pretty much had to make a straightfoward, non-concept rock record for this one. There’s no way the could top The Monitor, so I think they were much better off just making another kick ass rock record. I look at The Monitor as Patrick Stickles saying “Hey, I had what I thought was a cool idea, we put it together, and it fucking rocked. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna do that shit all the time”. That pretty much works for me.

    • Agreed. In fact, I am very relieved that this follow-up to The Monitor is not as conceptually grandiose. Rather than try to top yourself at your own game, it’s always better to just do something else.

      That being said, I think it could have been interesting to see them try to top themselves with another concept album; I think one of the main reasons I love them so much is Patrick Stickles’ paradoxically graceful art of overreaching.

  9. Great P.E., Tom. Pitchfork could learn a thing or two from you.

  10. Agree with this and I wasn’t even as big a fan of The Monitor as most people. To see some of the reactions around the internet calling this terrible or disappointing seems kind of crazy to me. It’s one of the best rock records of the year.

  11. I didn’t like Jackie Brown. Should I be worried about the album?!

  12. Don’t really get why people still think The Monitor is about a breakup. It’s about a lot of things, sure, but if the Civil War is a metaphor for anything, it’s the age-old battle of artistic integrity and staying true to yourself vs. “selling-out” and just doing what everyone else wants you to do. That being said, Local Business clearly shows which side of that battle Titus are still on, and this P.E. addresses everything that it should. Nice work.

    • After a move to Boston didn’t work out, Stickles began writing songs inspired by the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. “[My ex-girlfriend] went to bed at a normal hour,” he recalls. “I’d stay up late watching that movie and thinking about New Jersey. Then she gave me the boot, and I shat all these feelings out — and it became our record.” – Patrick Stickles in SPIN

  13. All I’ve heard are the 2-3 songs they’ve released online, and I’m very underwhelmed. The Monitor had grit and challenge; everything I’m hearing from this is best described as “eh.”

    • Same here. I generally don’t get the “The Monitor was one of the greatest rock albums of the last 10 years, and this one is nearly as great” sentiment. The Monitor was a really good rock album. I think Local Business lacks enough really strong melodies to make it compelling, and the production, especially in bringing the lead vocals to the way front, are suspect.

    • Can’t agree more. Nothing really grabs at you and although it’s a “fine rock album”, this is 2012. I could just listen to Tom Petty if I want to listen to a “fine rock band”

  14. sounds real good

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