Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Named after Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most maligned play, these Jersey boys have taken the blue-collar angst of fellow Garden State native Bruce Springsteen and upped the ante. Fueled by the same feelings of disenchantment and impotent rage against forces too mighty to conquer, The Monitor, the second album by Titus Andronicus, is like The Boss on speed. Fast, mean, furious, and for all the bitterness, a whole lot of fun.
The album uses the Civil War as a kind of analogy for a disenfranchised America. Obama’s election as the first black president of the United States may have injected some much needed optimism into the country, but this album states, in no uncertain terms, that there are still many who feel let down by The American Dream. And they’re pretty pissed off about it too. Peppered with fragments from the speeches and letters of Abraham Lincoln, the songs merge seamlessly into each other and feel like diary entries, the thoughts disjointed and confused.
What sets Titus Andronicus apart is the cross-roads of musical influences all trying to take part, only to be unceremonious elbowed out by the next one. The music slam-dances from Gaslight Anthem Jersey shore stompin' rock to Celtic and Americana folk back to brain-commin' through-your-ears punk, and all played at 11. Take opening song ‘A More Perfect Union’, a line taken from the Constitution of the United States. Beginning with an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, the song could have been written by Springsteen’s evil twin. The band take the classic ‘Born To Run’, strip it of its romanticism and hope, and then spit it back out: “I never wanted to change the world / but I’m looking for a new New Jersey /cos tramps like us baby we born to die.”
‘No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future’ is prefixed with a line from Lincoln’s letter to his law partner John T. Stuart: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” The vocals are like an exposed nerve as the singer vents his frustration: “Well I used to look myself in the mirror at the end of everyday / but I took the one thing that made me beautiful / and I threw it away.”
If Titus Andronicus had been around during the Civil War then they would have been deserters. With the drums sounding like the rat-a-tat of the drummers who marched into battle with the soldiers, these are the guys who would have decided they had had enough of the fighting and would have taken to the woods, going on the run until the provost’s noose caught up with them. This is beautifully illustrated in ‘Four Score And Seven’, the title taken from that most famous of Abe’s speeches The Gettysburg Address: “This is a war we can’t win/ After
10, 000 years / it’s still us against them.”
The album closes with the fourteen minute ‘The Battle Of Hampton Roads, with lead singer Patrick Stickles on his last leg. The song is almost a parody of Springsteen's epic 'Jungleland', as Stickles struggles to come to grips with the battle waging within himself: “And half the time if I open my mouth to speak / It’s to repeat something that I’ve heard on T.V./ And I’ve destroyed everything that would’ve made me more like Bruce Springsteen.”
The pumped up adrenaline of the music propels the songs along at lightening speed as the band take on The Powers That Be. Titus Andronicus may be going down in flames, but they’re singing loud and strong as they go.