titus

‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’ is a vaguely magical realist concept album. It’s conceptually rich but Patrick Stickles writes lyrics that can seem superficially blunt and uncomfortably self-pitying. It encompasses varied textures of dissonance and harmony and multiple genres, yet somehow it manages to resolve these potentially awkward connections, from its post-hardcore bombast filtered through classic rock to sketches of Celtic folk and Neutral Milk Hotel-like harmony. In this double album Titus Andronicus’ rich combination of styles grips you in a unique way. They are political, honest and brave enough to articulate desires and failings. You might baulk at moments of earnestness, both musically and lyrically.

The double album is a five-act rock opera that entertains and provokes. It includes covers of the Pogues, Daniel Johnston and, perhaps incongruously, ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The melancholic main character meets his exact physical double; they talk and reflect on his life in a way that reveals uncomfortable insights. This conversation touches on the self-destructiveness and immersive negativity that characterise the troughs in manic depression, which are followed by rushes of action and focus.

It begins with a droning electronic organ sound and four incredible opening tracks that indulge Stickles’ classic rock influences. ‘No Future Part VI,’ stripped of modern punk singalong vocal style, would not be out of place on one of The Who’s albums. The next few songs run us through aspects of his record collection – Creedence, Stiff Little Fingers and the New York Dolls. It’s a brave and rousing start, while ‘Stranded (On My Own)’ is the real highlight.

The next act ups the tempo while establishing the protagonist’s encounter with his doppelganger. The songs are short and fast with buzzsaw guitars. ‘I Lost My Mind,’ the Johnston cover, far departed from the original, is an interesting, worthwhile interpretation. This pop-punk interlude is followed by some more classic song writing, which draws on some Springsteen-like dynamics. ‘Mr E. Mann,’ despite the corny pun, revises ‘Badlands’, for examples.

The last two acts include more short drones, revived from the introduction. The songs are more esoteric as the album draws towards the end, however, it’s worth sticking with it for ‘No Future Part V’ and ‘Stable Boy’, which highlight Stickles’ diverse talents. ‘Stable Boy’ sounds like Jeff Mangum but is as off kilter as The Fugs. It is a fitting end to such a studiously conceived album.

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