Several key pieces of background information about this writer must be disclosed before the subsequent presentation of a review of Titus Andronicus’s third release, Local Business.
First and foremost, I am already a huge fan of Titus Andronicus. Their sophomore album, a loosely Civil War-inspired masterpiece titled The Monitor, was often my only friend during the dark period I associate with the latter half of high school. The most tangible proof can be found on my AP U.S. History binder, into which I painstakingly carved (in all caps, of course), “As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.”
Second, rather than track-by-track, I heard this album through NPR’s “First Listen” as a 50-minute block of music, which is certainly how it should be done. I personally prefer not to put Titus Andronicus on shuffle, just as I prefer not to listen to any song besides Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Parts 2 and 3” directly after hearing “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1.” As is the case with the previous albums, Local Business’s tracks bleed into each other, they belong to each other, with abrupt, brief pauses and musical interludes that necessitate the next song.
Local Business is not a strong dissent from the band’s prior discography. The same catchy, hummable guitar riffs are ever-present, and, although the band members have shuffled around a bit since their debut record in 2005, front man Patrick Stickles has been a durable constant.
The album begins with the hoarse, strained voice of Stickles disclosing to his audience, “Okay, I think by now we’ve already established that everything is inherently worthless / and there’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose.” The album’s lyrics are almost always sardonic, but they’re also sincere and self-reflective. Paired with Stickles’s rough vocals, they take on a new tone of exasperation, like in “Ecce Homo”: “I guess you’re guilty of a terrible crime, and I know, it was my birth / Doing twenty-six to life now on planet Earth.”
You can take Titus Andronicus out of the Garden State but you can’t take the inevitable New Jersey references out of their songs. The first released single, “In a Big City,” contains a line of honest and pithy poetry: “Lifeless automaton feeling like a ghost / I don’t know much, but I know which side’s buttered on my toast / From Jersey I come, but I pump my own gas / I’m a dirty bum but I wipe my own ass.” And “Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” contains the type of repetitive chant that I have come to expect and appreciate from the ensemble. Rather than “You will always be a loser,” Stickles hoarsely cries “I’m going insane!” repeatedly over heavy guitar and fast-paced drums.
Local Business is music that’s polished enough to fit in with the mainstream but harsh enough to count as punk. It’s music that’s expected but still meets expectations. And if, like me, you’ve been hanging onto every word of the past few Titus Andronicus albums, Local Business lyrics may well manifest in your notebook’s margins.