Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Record Label: XL Recordings
Release Date: March 9, 2010
We all have angst. It’s practically woven into our middle class DNA. We buy Toyota Corollas, and have angst. And lots of us, usually through either an “abstact” watercolor “piece” or poem about, probably, the setting sun, have tried to express this hormonal torture. But few of us have the balls to describe the everyday problems of youth/having a job title with the word “junior” in front of it like Titus Andronicus’ frontman Patrick Stickles. On one of The Monitor’s many standouts, “Richard II”, he says, “We’ve never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Even if we disregard the cool way he melds old problems with new (The Monitor is loosely based around the American Civil War), we can agree that his self-centeredness is so self-centered that we can all relate.
The Monitor, as intended, is an intimidating task. Opener “A More Perfect Union” begins with a speech by Abraham Lincoln. Before long, guitars build into Stickles doing his best Craig Finn impersonation, which somehow sounds better than Craig Finn. There are no moments to breathe, because even when the band takes it easy, Stickles is still going strong. On “No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future” there are plenty of lulls allowing Stickles to drop gems like, “Yes I have surrendered what made me human and all I thought was true / So now there’s a robot that lives in my brain and tells me what to do.” However, such dips in energy are rare. Typically the band can be found tiptoeing the edge of shameless, binge-drinking punk rock (“Titus Andronicus Forever”). It’s better when they’re loud, I think, because it makes Stickles’ self-doubt seem more immediate, like there’s a time limit to his sanity.
New Jersey is foreign to me. Patrick Stickles’ New Jersey, however, is as ordinary as dog shit in a dog park. And if you’re perusing a site called AbsolutePunk.net, I bet you’re in the same boat. Wait, you also have lots of bland white friends who tell stories about getting drunk on railroad tracks? Get in line, pervert. The point, I think, is that at first glance this record is about a very particular geography, but upon closer inspection it’s about something so universal that it has to be given a spot on the map. Otherwise, assholes like you would call it trite because, “How could he possibly know what it’s like where I am!?” That’s what you’d say. But now you can’t say that because Stickles doesn’t care about that. He only cares about what’s happened to him, which is all you care about as well. See? By him being so into whatever is right in front of him, it allows you to do the same. During the drunken singalong “Theme From ‘Cheers’”, he sings, “I’m sorry, Mama, expect a call from the neighbors tonight / All of my asshole buddies are coming over and they’re all feeling a little too alright.” You’re like, “Yes! That happened to me yesterday.” And rather than condemn you like I should, I’ll let it slide because it will hopefully happen to me tonight.
As sad as this record can be, I’d be lying if I didn’t wish that Stickles’ existence was mine to the T (or is it, tee?). This sort of fuck-it-all, let’s-see-what-happens mentality is simply appealing. What else is being 22 about if you can’t blindly blame others and hope for more without lifting a finger. But maybe that’s where you and I differ from the boys of Titus Andronicus. We’re here in front of a computer literally doing nothing while they are touring the country or drinking Keystone Light in a foreign land. I guess the question is, how much longer will they be able to use the unhappy shtick that dominates The Monitor? On “To Old Friends and New”, over a piano and not much else, Stickles says, “It’s alright the way you piss and moan.” I interpret that as his little way of saying, what are we if we can’t wish for more. Who are we if we are just, you know, happy? Being happy is nice. But being happier is better. And while that may seem a little NaS “The World Is Yours”, it’s true. So rather than seeing Stickles as a guy who’s never content, just picture him, and yourself, as people who want to be more content. On the same track, we hear a group of friends repeat, “It’s alright / The way that you live,” over and over. And if that means you’re always searching for something new, better and awesome, so be it. Do just that.
Recommended If You Like: The Hold Steady, Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem, New Jersey, Stuff that matters in the long run