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Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (Cover Artwork)

Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus: The MonitorThe Monitor (2010)
XL Recordings

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
User Rating:


Contributed by: usversusthemusversusthem
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In a way, we're lucky, really. It was enough of a shock for everyone, I think, that an album like Titus Andronicus' 2008 debut full-length, The Airing of Grievances, was allowed to be. In a world as devoid of good things as TA frontman Patrick Stickles would have us believe this one is, the exist.
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In a way, we're lucky, really.

It was enough of a shock for everyone, I think, that an album like Titus Andronicus' 2008 debut full-length, The Airing of Grievances, was allowed to be. In a world as devoid of good things as TA frontman Patrick Stickles would have us believe this one is, the existence of something so pure, so good, so raw and intense and impossibly perfect as The Airing of Grievances seems like a one-in-a-billion chance.

And that sort of album could only really come from a band as crazy as Titus Andronicus, for that matter. Let's review the facts: (1) They're from New Jersey. (2) In about four years, they've racked up 13, count 'em, thirteen ex-members. (3) They make loud, angry songs about nihilism, depression, anger and cultural references. (4) Though generally critically acclaimed, their appeal is (unsurprisingly) lost on the masses. When I saw them in September, they played on a Friday night in the sixth-largest urban metropolis in North America to about three dozen people*. To boot: before The Airing of Grievances was mercifully remastered and re-released by XL Recordings a year ago, it was put out on vinyl by Troubleman Unlimited. My copy of that release, easily the most shoddily-packaged vinyl I own by a mile, is hand numbered 79/500, and doesn't even have labels for the A and B sides. I don't think anyone would be too surprised if a band like that just up and died. We could all sit around the campfire, listening to the climactic ending to "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'" ad nauseum and reminisce about the good times.

But lo, Titus Andronicus lived on to make a sophomore record. Enter The Monitor, a "not-quite" concept album about the American Civil War. If you were hoping for the lyrics to be about more revolutionary times than these, I'm sorry to say that you're going to be disappointed. For all of you who shudder at the joining of the the words "concept" and "album," however--and being that this is Punknews, I know that that's most of you--fear not. Sure, there are bits between songs where various music dudes read old-timey quotes. But TA did that last time around too, only here it's about U.S. politics circa 150 years ago instead of Shakespeare or Camus.

That's not the only shift in tone that The Monitor embodies, though. There's also the music, which, for lack of a better word, is wimpier. Now: Don't get me wrong. This is a very good album. And it will continue, no doubt, to grow on me, and it will grow on you too, dear reader. But The Monitor is not as tough and violent as its older brother. It's more ambitious, sure. At 65 minutes in length, it's a full 50% longer than The Airing of Grievances. In fact, epic--and I'm not using this term lightly--closing number "The Battle of Hampton Roads," which features, so far as I can tell, the only two verses worth of Civil War lyrics on the album, is, at 14:02, longer than the two longest tracks off their debut combined. The lead single, "Four Score and Seven," easily one of the album's best tracks, didn't even fit on one side of a 7", for fuck's sakes.

But the same shit-starting intensity of The Airing of Grievances has been tempered a little bit. As "A Pot in Which to Piss" gets ready to go balls-out, it turns into a dancey piano number. "Richard II," a sort-of homage to Billy Bragg's "Richard," is fantastically catchy, but wades into the Gaslight Anthem end of the punk pool a little. The two short tracks, "Titus Andronicus Forever" and "...And Ever," which, an album ago, would've been straight-up punk songs, are here two versions of the same surf-rock riff rip, over which are laid the repeated shout "The enemy is everywhere! The enemy is everywhere!", delivered with a good deal more winking sarcasm than inchoate rage. In fact, speaking of repeated lines, the album's closing lyrics go: "Please don't ever leave me." Over and over. For about a minute. That's dangerously close to a brand of emo more pathetic than I care to know about. They don't sound as bad as I just made them sound--but still.

So the question you have to ask yourself is: Why did you like Titus Andronicus in the first place? Was it purely the angry, vitriolic punkiness of it? Because "Titus Andronicus," their signature eponymous track, made you want to mosh while screaming "Your life is over! Your life is over!" over and over? Or did you enjoy them because Patrick Stickles is as intelligent, interesting, enigmatic and hell-raising a songwriter as the middle of the Venn diagram between "Pitchfork hipsters" and "punk rockers" is ever likely to see? Because The Monitor is a valiant second effort, and though I can't in good conscience say it's better than The Airing of Grievances, goddamn is it a fun album--one that demands repeated listening, and one that rewards repeat listening, too. For an hour-and-change album, that it doesn't drag is frankly an impressive achievement. Oh, and there's a hilarious Scooby Doo reference thrown in at one point for good measure. That's an embarrassment of riches if I've ever seen one.

* - supMontreal, if you're wondering, though for the purposes of the statement I excluded Mexico from my definition of North America.

 

 
People who liked this also liked:
The Menzingers - Chamberlain WaitsJoyce Manor - Joyce ManorBomb the Music Industry! - VacationThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundThe Menzingers - On the Impossible PastAgainst Me! - is Reinventing Axl RoseTitus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances [reissue]Descendents - Milo Goes To CollegeThe Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!Alkaline Trio - Goddamnit

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
FreewaterfallJr (July 25, 2013)

One of the best albums i've heard in a long time

davebrave4 (June 7, 2013)

Great review of a great album. It does lean on the comparisons to their first LP a little too heavily, but really a great review overall.

SwissCheese (March 9, 2012)

When this album was first released I tried to get into it, but nothing really stuck with me, which left me thinking that this album was overrated. Recently I threw the album on again and gave it another shot...and wow, what an album!! Definitely one that just gets better with repeated listens!

milner (April 8, 2011)

Took a bit of courage to shed out £7 on this. Sounded a tad 'scene-y' at first. Pleased I did, as soon as the drumbeat hits for A More Perfect Union I get the biggest grin on my face. Fantastic album.

badbrain (February 4, 2011)

It seems like this review is more or less just comparing this album to TAOG than reviewing it for what it is. I had never heard Titus before and finally checked out this album a couple weeks ago, and speaking as someone hearing this album as their introduction to the band I think its pretty amazing and I wish I'd discovered it sooner

usversusthem (December 20, 2010)

Also just revisited this review. In retrospect, I was harsher on it than I should have been, maybe. I still prefer Airing but Monitor has narrowed the gap considerably since then. In any case, I knew that was going to happen, seeing as I predicted it would continue to grow on me. What a champ of an album...

scientistrock (June 19, 2010)

Just revisited this review. I can't in good conscience say you're not an idiot for not saying it's a billion times better than S/T. And S/T is fucking awesome.

wallrock (March 17, 2010)

I stumbled upon Titus Andronicus almost by accident, winning a free copy of the S/T before they opened for Los Campesinos last year. In my opinion they blew LC off the stage and I was pretty much immediately smitten. I haven't given The Monitor quite enough time as of yet to really know if I like it more or less than the S/T, but I know for certain it's one of my favorites of the year. For a 65-minute album it really flies by.

The best part is that I get to see them live in a couple of weeks. I cannot wait.

mattramone (March 17, 2010)

Was not impressed by their live show.

xshoutoutx (March 17, 2010)

This release is a beast!

leecorsoisapenis (March 17, 2010)

I'm going to agree with Spalmer here. I come to this sight enough to know how much people bitch about Pitchfork. It's funny, because people who read pitchfork bitch about it too, as if they've become too cool for it now. So really, no one reads it, everybody talks crap about it, and yet somehow they are a hugely popular site. Weird how that works. I can't believe that stupid Pitchfork site reviewed our beloved Ted Leo too.

Oh, and this album is freaking awesome. I do agree with the guy who mentioned Conor Oberst though. It is eerily similar at times.

oldpunkerforever (March 17, 2010)

this is good, previous one was better tho-oldpunker-

Blackjaw_ (March 17, 2010)

Not if I get first first.

Spalmer (March 17, 2010)

well I'll have to get "first" on navel gazing this sunday then

Blackjaw_ (March 17, 2010)

Yeah I know, that is the general attitude of this site, I just found it 'ironic' that you ranted here when there wasn't much or any dislike of Pitchfork expressed in this particular review's comments.

Spalmer (March 17, 2010)

Well it's not like I read this site enough to get a scope on the preferences of the regulars here. But it's an attitude that permeates the site and is basically retarded as all hell. His comment was just a catalyst for me to spout off on it. i'm definitely not targeting him specifically.

Blackjaw_ (March 17, 2010)

This is funny because FFWoodyCooks actually likes bands that are big on Pitchfork, so I'm pretty sure he was just joking with that comment/mocking other people. And the only other mention of Pitchfork implied that its high rating of this album was a good thing. So that dude totally just exploded in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Spalmer (March 17, 2010)

People on this site need to get the fuck over the existence of Pitchfork. You don't look edgy, and I doubt you even know why you hate it, and a lot of their tastes converge with this site. You just look like a shallow moron who doesn't actually even know what defines what you like, you only care about Pitchfork because you think you should hate it but don' actually know why. That's right, bitches, I'm calling you out. If the existence of another review site is enough to make you crab on about it in every review or thread that even vaguely mentions it we have a problem. You are exactly what you disdain whether you know it or not.

scientistrock (March 16, 2010)

Man, I was working on a review of this that was so wanky and pretentious. I do really wish you discussed the themes on the album though. Best of the year so far. By a lot.

ffwoodycooks (March 16, 2010)

"an 8.7 on Pitchfork"

ew, gross

thepopeofchili-town (March 16, 2010)

A 9/10 review on here, an 8.7 on Pitchfork, and Blackjaw talking about them all the time on the Summit... I guess I'll check it out.

hiimarlon (March 16, 2010)

great album, definitely one of my favorites this year so far.

preston (March 16, 2010)

I like this album. Dude sounds like Conor Oberst quite often on this, though.

Blackjaw_ (March 16, 2010)

Such a fantastic album.

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