Titus Andronicus - An Obelisk (Album Review)

Ben Gladman 28 June 2019

Photo: Ray Concepcion After last year’s quiet curveball, ‘A Productive Cough’, it was natural to wonder whether the hell-raising Titus Andronicus of old was gone for good. For years, the New Jersey punks had produced some of the finest, smartest, most energising music around, and while that sedate, open-ended bar band offering was certainly intriguing, it lacked the magic that so many had grown to love.

But from the opening shouted count-in on ‘An Obelisk’, it is obvious that its predecessor was a side-step rather than a wholesale change in direction. The opening chords to Just Like Ringing a Bell are fuzzy and dirty, thrashing out a straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll riff; Patrick Stickles’ voice is delightfully off-key and rough as he growls about everything from sell-out musicians and television to homelessness and a flawed judicial system. src=http://www.stereoboard.com/images/stories/2013/images/A-Z%20Main%20Artist%20Images/T/titus_andronicus_album_hp_030419.jpg

At times the lyrics border on an almost jealous, out of touch series of complaints about modernity, but they are carried off with such conviction that it doesn’t really matter at all.

The album’s third track, (I Blame) Society, takes aim at the wider world again but with much more valid, simply stated complaints, with Stickles spitting at “the one thousandth of one percent [...] thriving by deceit” and crooked Big Pharma who “line us up in binaries for psychiatry retreats”. 

The rest of the album seethes with a more complicated type of rage. Another early highlight, Troubleman Unlimited, rattles off quip after self-loathing quip, culminating in the ironic snark of “I used to be the problem child, but now I am the Troubleman”. Two classic rock solos follow, almost too clean for the mess that precedes them, but fabulous nevertheless. Stickles wields his loser status as a superpower throughout the album, standing in defiance under the stamping boot of Big Brother—On the Street even directly focuses on modern authoritarianism and surveillance.

But, while ‘An Obelisk’ feels like a return to form and some of the most invigorating modern punk of the last few years, it still doesn’t match Titus Andronicus’s earlier output. As perfectly produced as it is (i.e. left raw and deafening) by Hüsker Dü legend Bob Mould, the energy can’t hide a loss of substance. There are plenty of fantastic lyrical moments that pithily encapsulate modern injustices, but the songwriting itself is sometimes underdeveloped. 

Gone are the atmospheric, sampled introductions of their all-time classic, ‘The Monitor’. Missing too are the sprawling and ambitious song structures that only really make an appearance on the track Within the Gravitron. But if this sleeker, simpler punk-rock is what Titus Andronicus had to make to rediscover their earlier energy and rage, then we can have no complaints. Their older work might carry more depth, but a new batch of underdog anthems to yell back at the stage will always be welcome.

  


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