Titus Andronicus’ newest album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, is a 29-song, 93-minute behemoth. As most double-albums of this scope are wont to be, it is a rock opera. It tells the story of a man who meets his exact double, and discovers his double is of the opposite disposition. Also, for the most part, it’s a damn fine album.
As with most rock operas, I’m not entirely sure it’s imperative to fully grasp the machinations of the plot to enjoy the album, but I’m definitely eager to see the sometimes murky plot cohesively diagrammed.
A more succinct, detailed summary–along with a ton of insight into the circumstances of what could be one of the last decade’s best rock group’s swan song — can be found in this Grantland piece.
The moribund doppelgänger plot is naturally a way for Titus Andronicus’,principal singer/songwriter, Patrick Stickles, to explore the opposing highs and lows of his depression.The dichotomous nature of the album is further reinforced by the presence of both typical Titus Andronicus guitar-anthem-shout-along songs and more ornate arrangements.
In interviews, Stickles has compared the more baroque tracks to Lou Reed’s Berlin and the straightforward howlers to Zen Arcade.
However, instead of Hüsker Dü or Lour Reed, this album’s kindred spirit is really Brian Wilson, because as are eggs to Danny DeVito, mania v. depression is just The Most Laudable Tragedy’s jumping off point. Titus Andronicus’ latest offering is a sprawling, spiraling effort, which draws elements from every one of the band’s past releases to create something close to punk rock’s SMiLE.
Instead of Wilson’s muses, beaches, morality, love, America and the passage of time, Stickles draws from New Jersey, Shakespeare, “Seinfeld”, Terrordomes and eating disorders. Also, whereas Wilson’s grapples with wellness were whispers that gradually became more evident, Stickles places his mental health in the forefront of the songs, which include a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “I Had Lost My Mind”.
Interestingly, SMiLE and The Most Lamentable Tragedy both repurpose standards–“You Are MY Sunshine” and “Auld Lang Syne” respectively– in interesting ways.
Even with cover songs and standards in the mix, this album is still definitively a Titus Andronicus album. I predict much will be made about the growth and audacity on display, but, for me, this album seems like a natural progression.
While it may seem odd for what is ostensibly a punk rock band from New Jersey to record a grandiose, concept album, it’s important to remember this is a band named after a Shakespearean play, and their debut album contained an almost 6-minute suite called “Arms Against Atrophy”. Plus, the previous two Titus Andronicus albums have been concept albums of sorts.
The strings and brass which punch up a few songs are definitely a change of pace, but considering they’re sometimes backing a man absolutely caterwauling in utter despondency, it’s not a particularly jarring change of pace.
While I have nothing but praise for the execution and ambition, which created The Most Lamentable Tragedy, it’s tough for me to pinpoint exactly how strongly I should endorse this record. It’s sheer size is almost an obnoxious novelty.
There are certainly a multitude of catchy songs, which find triumph in the universal nature of humanity’s dark feelings and dread, which is always a plus, but when I reach Track 14’s intermission, the 78 seconds of silence are appreciated. Titus Andronicus’ brand of music is intense and emotionally draining.
While Titus Andronicus’ music is almost always a joy to hear, 93 minutes might be too much of a good thing. Plus, with an overarching plot and a multitude of heartfelt themes The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a ton to take in.
Still, in smaller doses, this album is much more manageable. I probably can’t unequivocally recommend it to everyone, but ultimately, I suppose The Most Lamentable Tragedy is good album aiming for great things.
For anyone, who has been following Titus Andronicus for a while, or to anyone who is interested in ambitious projects for the sake of shaking the status quo, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is definitely required listening.