Lives up both to its rebellious, riotous ambition and its rich musical heritage.
Mischa Pearlman 2010
Bruce Springsteen has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently. Not just in terms of his own career, which has once again flourished since 2002’s The Rising, but through a number of bands who are carrying the torch he first lit on E Street all those years ago. From The Killers to Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady to The Gaslight Anthem, this recent surge of Boss-inspired sounds has taken various forms, but nobody has approached it with quite the iconoclastic zeal of Titus Andronicus.
This second full-length from the five-piece (who, like Springsteen, hail from New Jersey) is an epic and ambitious concept album based around the American Civil War. It begins with a reading of an 1838 speech by Abraham Lincoln which declares that “as a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide”. It’s then that the tumbling drums and feedback-fuzz guitars of A More Perfect Union kick in. “Tramps like us…” sneers singer Patrick Stickles, before inverting the classic Springsteen line “…baby, we were born to die!”
From there, the band embark on a rambunctious, exuberant, history-filled, alcohol-fuelled journey that uses the Civil War as a metaphor for the terrors and trials, joys and jubilations, of modern life. Titus Andronicus Forever and its counterpart, …And Ever, are two-minute thrashes of boisterous desperation, but the rest are searching, sprawling songs varying constantly in tempo and tone. There’s the raw post-war anthem of Richard II, the nostalgic knees-up of Four Score and Seven and the rambling 14 minutes of the self-reflective, self-destructive finale, The Battle of Hampton Roads, where Stickles, in a voice that trembles with the nervous, drunken energy of early Bright Eyes, proclaims that he’s “destroying everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen”. It ends in a frenetic flurry of white noise that slowly fades into oblivion.
The irony is that The Monitor sounds, paradoxically, both nothing and everything like The Boss. But the band have taken his influence, twisted and distorted it and made a quite remarkable album that lives up both to its rebellious, riotous ambition and its rich musical heritage.