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Album review: Titus Andronicus' 'The Monitor'

March 9, 2010 |  6:15 pm

Titus_andronicus_album_240_ “I need a timeout,” sings Patrick Stickles near the end of Titus Andronicus’ sophomore effort, “The Monitor.” It’s a bit of an understatement. “The Monitor” is a workout, packed with strained punk rock yells, folksy breakdowns and dozens upon dozens of slapped-together guitar riffs. It’s also breathlessly ambitious, a 10-song cycle, purportedly inspired by the Civil War, but largely about the trials and tribulations of suburban life and dashed middle-class dreams. 

From the seven-minute-plus opener to the near 15-minute closer, “The Monitor” cements Titus Andronicus’ status as New Jersey’s answers to the Pogues, and it hits hard with its tragic, barroom poetics. “I’m at the end of my rope, and I feel like swinging,” Stickles sings with a hangover drawl on “A Pot in Which to Piss,” and swing he does, as sharp, Clash-like guitars never let the listener get much of a breather. Yet for as aggressive as the band can be (see the militaristic march of “Richard II”), Titus Andronicus isn’t afraid to toss out a piano-heavy lament such as “To Old Friends and New,” a tale of stuck-together lovers.   

One could spend weeks unraveling Titus Andronicus’ lyrics, as the album’s cynicism is laced with pop-culture references to everything from Abraham Lincoln to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen. Late album cut “Theme From ‘Cheers’,” for instance, can be heard as a response to the Boss’ “Glory Days,” finding all but nostalgia in its violin-spiked ode to long-unrealized hopes. “Let’s turn into dirty old men, close down the bar every night,” Stickles sings, and one doesn’t know whether to cringe or cheer. Throwing away one’s life should rarely sound this fun. 

-- Todd Martens

Titus Andronicus
“The Monitor”
XL Recordings
Three and a half stars (Out of four)