On its third album, Local Business, Titus Andronicus sounds like the same band it has always been: an intersection of punk and Americana, just as influenced by The Clash as Bruce Springsteen.
Titus Andronicus is a group deeply entrenched in rock ‘n’ roll history and its influences are varied and unmistakable. The group shares The Hold Steady’s vibe as a great American bar band: Titus Andronicus is completely raw and soul-bearing, but its members are more ambitious than the usual, occasionally employing some of the grandiosity of a band like Arcade Fire.
On Local Business, this ambition is readily apparent, particularly on tracks like “My Eating Disorder,” an eight-minute epic about struggling with one’s body (a topic that pops up a few times on the album). The song kicks off with a guitar riff reminiscent of a Keith Richards instrumental. Later in “My Eating Disorder,” a guitar solo might remind listeners of both The Vibrators — one of the few punk bands that regularly employed guitar solos — and Dinosaur Jr., but the instrumental segment builds to something much more unique than just the sum of its influences. Still, the genuineness of frontman Patrick Stickle’s emotions is the main reason the music works and very rarely feels overly emo or angsty.
On this track, and for much of the album, the band employs the same type of rousing, repetitive, drunken, anthemic choruses that have always been a staple of its music. At the end of “My Eating Disorder,” Stickles repeats the phrase “spit it out” several times, as both his vocals and the music slowly build in intensity to an anguished cry. This contrasts with the almost proud nature of his repetition of the phrase “my eating disorder” earlier in the song.
The previous track, a much more simplistic number, is the minute-long raucous, “Food Fight!” whose only lyrics are — no surprise here — “food fight.” This juxtaposition is emblematic of the band’s sense of humor.
“Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” stands out as the most overtly punk song on the album with very simple and repetitive lyrics, entirely composed of the words “I’m going insane.” Admittedly, it’s a little obvious, but part of the fun of the song is its ridiculousness, and the music unrelentingly moves forward at such a breakneck speed that you have little time to ponder the lyrics.
On “In a Small Body,” Titus Andronicus sounds like a darker, angrier version of Bruce Springsteen, with Stickles yelling “Don’t tell me I was born free / That joke has been old since high school,” as big, sprawling instrumentation backs him.
The intro to “(I Am The) Electric Man” sounds like the happy side of Lou Reed, with some Television-esque guitar action. Once Stickles starts singing solo, a tinge of influence from Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock colors his delivery.
The last and longest song on the album, “Tried to Quit Smoking,” is as confessional as it gets, with Stickles singing “It’s not that I wanted to hurt you / I just didn’t care if I did.” The song slowly changes and builds into, “It is not that I do not love you / It’s just that I hate everyone.” There is both remorse and resignation in his voice as he sings these lyrics, but Stickles then juxtaposes this earnestness with the angry ridiculousness of yelling, “Kill kill kill Ronald Reagan” at the top of his lungs.
There is a playfulness to every song on Local Business, despite the heaviness of some of the themes and images. The lyrics in “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus” are a perfect example of a combination of the macabre and the absurd. The lyrics describe a deadly car crash that annoys the people stuck in traffic on the way to their caffeine fix. Here, Titus Andronicus’ main focus lyrically is the emptiness, struggle and farce of modern life and deconstructing those aspects of society most of us take for granted.
Local Business, like the band’s other albums, finds a balance between angsty existentialism and simple hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll, but this time around Titus Andronicus is far less reverential than it used to be. There are no more spoken word excerpts from Camus or Lincoln or Whitman: It’s just pure Titus Andronicus all the way through.
The songs get better with each listen and are immensely catchy and danceable, even when Stickles sings cynical lyrics such as, “OK, I think by now we’ve established / Everything is inherently worthless / And there’s nothing in the Universe / With any kind of objective purpose,” as he does in the opening lines of the album. With Titus Andronicus’ music, there is a sense that since everything is meaningless, we all might as well have fun, get drunk and play some rock ‘n’ roll.
For this reason, Titus Andronicus is the kind of band better suited to playing a small, sweaty, cramped dive than a larger venue; their live show is built upon the intimate intensity of the audience dancing and singing along with the same reckless abandon as the band. And Local Business better captures the energy of their live act than 2010’s The Monitor did — the album is less ambitious in its instrumentation and subject matter and more representative of the hard-rocking bar band Titus Andronicus is in concert.
Local Business was released Oct. 22 on XL Recordings. Titus Andronicus plays at the El Rey Theater on Nov. 8 with support from Ceremony and Henry Clay People.