Titus Andronicus - A Productive Cough (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Titus Andronicus

A Productive Cough (2018)


Never one to repeat himself, Patrick Stickles has added yet another fascinating piece to the Titus Andronicus puzzle. After the twenty-nine track, hour and a half plus The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Stickles and his group of twenty-nine musicians go in a completely new direction.

A Productive Cough is seven songs in roughly forty-five minutes. In an attempt to slow things down, Stickles has stripped a lot of their best-known qualities. The New Jersey band started as aggressive punk rock and this outing is the furthest they’ve ventured from that template. Here, Stickles delves deeper into the sounds of a barroom band. Pianos and strings plaster the record. “Real Talk” in particular elevates the sound, coming across as one hell of a New Orleans party. However, it’s followed by the somber realism of “Above the Bodega (Local Business),” itself a callback to the Titus album of a similar name. Stickles talks about how hard it is to hide from the man downstairs, seeing him at his worst, even if he can hide himself from those closest to him. “Crass Tattoo,” about exactly that, finds Megg Farrell dipping into a more traditional ballad. Farrell takes the voice of Stickles and, over soft orchestration, details the youthful dedication to believing in rebellion and the failed state of, well, almost everything.

Opener “Number One (In New York),” is the wordiest song of the small bunch, with the second longest running time. On their previous albums, this would seem like a natural closer, but not here. Now it acts as the mission statement. “We’re in for a real mean storm,” Stickles screams in his traditionally flat growl. Even so early in the album, you can hear he’s not lying. Because Stickles is a capable and strong bandleader. One would have to be to tackle “Like A Rolling Stone,” one of the most well known songs in the rock and roll catalogue. And Stickles doesn’t simply cover Bob Dylan; he turns the song inward—the entire nine minutes told as a first person narrative. To make it even crazier, Stickles name drops actual Rolling Stones members, both past and present.

A Productive Cough is labeled as a huge departure for Titus Andronicus, but the band exists to challenge itself. Lamentable Tragedy was a rock opera about manic depression. Local Business, arguably the band’s worst received album, was disappointing only in that Stickle’s scope was smaller than usual. Well that’s not the case on A Productive Cough. Stickles and company prove once again that there is nothing more punk than doing the opposite of what’s expected. And this album meets, exceeds and plays with expectations in the way only Stickles knows how.