The Most Lamentable Tragedy
In an ambitious, somewhat outlandish and punk to the core move, Titus Andronicus has bestowed upon us humble music listeners a twenty-nine song, ninety-three minute long rock opera to clear up any confusion about where the band stood after 2012’s Local Business. Not to get too deep off path, but for context, the New Jersey rock band followed up the wildly exhilarating masterwork of 2010’s The Monitor (a bold and brash corollary of the Civil War representing lead creative Patrick Stickles’ life) with a heavy handed dram of sulky dejection. Not to pick on Local Business-- Stickles never forgoes his wry wit and seductive narratives, but it’s hard to follow an album so elegantly punk, so perfectly imperfect, and so infuriatingly relatable as The Monitor. It’s akin to seeing an exalted older sibling cry or your best pal posting song lyrics on Facebook; Wholly unnerving, yet beautifully affirming.
The punk approach to a musical, the self-effacing bravado that is The Most Lamentable Tragedy arrives back at the core of Titus Andronicus’ work where The Monitor left off. Holding itself and everyone else to the highest standard of art, no one escapes Stickles’ crass eloquence. Despite his aged and weathered homages to the roots of the genre, not even the rolling stone is safe from moss. Adding itself to a record year of signees for Merge Records, the vanguard of rock and roll has found a new venue to channel its layers of growling, filthy, depressing, sinful mastery.
It is an album almost too rare to be valuable; striking out into the depths of brilliance without guarantee that it will find an audience. Despite this, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is, at its point of origin, a story. Coalescing around a fictional “Hero,” TMLT follows a day in the life of a tortured soul, beginning first at the bleak dark matter that exists before sleep with the first track “The Angry Hour.” The entire album tells a tepid, tumultuous, yet well articulated tale, yet individual tracks can stand by themselves as their own emotional microcosms. It is this deft skill that makes the record feel less like a grandiose experiment and more like an intricate (how Sean Nelson at The Stranger put it) “will to overshare.”
Adding his own flavor to the mix, Radio K Front Desk Jockey and DJ Luke had this to say about the album: “There seems to be some sarcasm in writing a rock opera in 2015, but it fits so perfectly with the band's trajectory. It's full of strange fillers (Like an Auld Lang Syne cover) and great singles. I can hardly explain how perfect it is that the band's logo is made up of an upside-down cross and an anarchy symbol, proudly displayed in the middle of the front of the record. I think Patrick Stickles probably produced this album with a huge pissed-off grin on his face. So much of what the band does feels off-the-wall and sarcastic, but the music is very seriously good.”
The expansive album is simply too hard to sum up in just one song; each a tiny standalone piece in a much larger whole. Yet, highlights such as “Dimed Out” and “Come On, Siobhán” are excellent places to start. In the latter, the initial crescendo is reminiscent of sunrise over hard rock fields. It employs a prototypical story of young love told in as bleak yet joyous a way as humanly possible. While a vigorous and positive track like this may seem out of place in the gruff maw of Stickles, it functions perfectly as a tribute to the first themes of rock and roll, ditching doom and gloom for pure adrenaline and aged guitar muscle that no synth or drum machine can hope to replace.
It’s beautifully ugly. It’s DIY, back to basics rock and roll. It’s beyond compare (though a polished Desaparecidos or Ezra Furman’s snarl come close). It’s beyond fluff, purely intricate straightforwardness-- fuck it, it’s good and you should listen to it.