Titus Andronicus “The Monitor” [XL]
One of the only New Jersey bands that truly fits the Bruce Springsteen mold is Titus Andronicus. About a month ago, some old high school friends were in town, so I treated them to a drunken night in Austin. The next day, hung over and tired, we stumbled into Waterloo Records where I picked up Titus Andronicus’s latest album “The Monitor”. On the drive home, I put the disc in and told my friends it was “a punk Springsteen”. But after a few songs, one of them commented, “I don’t hear the Springsteen thing.” I decided it was time to lay down some music education; Android-style.
Not only are their songs every-man anthems, but their constant references to the Garden State are pure Bruce. They play a wide range of styles, yet define them within their own rustic parameters, another Bruce trait. And although it’s no Clarence, Titus even throw in some saxophone for good measure. Chirst, on the opening track, singer Ian Graetzer makes an allusion to the Springsteen classic “Born to Run” when he screams “Tramps like us, baby we were born to DIE!” No, Bruce’s chants are a bit more positive than Titus’s fist pumping choruses like “You will always be a loser!” and “The enemy is everywhere!”, but the energy is the same. He even admits near the end of the album, “I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.”
Listen to “No Future Part III: Escape From No Future” and try not to scream along to the chorus that kicks in at the 3:30 mark:
The allusions don’t stop there. In fact, the entire album is set within the motif of the Civil War. Every few songs a guest speaker will pop-in, spouting famous quotes from the era such as Abraham Lincoln’s “I am now the most miserable man living.” But don’t be fooled by the Civil War pomp and circumstance. The band uses this theme simply as a vehicle for conveying the turmoil singer Graetzer recently went through due to a break-up with his long-time girlfriend. He spent the next few months wallowing on the couch in depression watching the Ken Burn’s documentary “The Civil War”. I’m guessing he found a shared solace in Abe’s “misery” and inspiration grew from there.
Actually, the references to “Four score” and “the Battle Cry of Freedom” are used sparingly amidst the more contemporary mentions of “it sounded like a pretty good 7-inch” and “my days peddling hate out the back of a Chevy Express”. This is not a concept album, rather a concoction composed of pop-culture and history, resulting in a multi-layered, dizzying narrative. This album is like T.S. Elliot’s “Wasteland” if he had written the entire poem on bar napkins while a drunken local played “Nebraska” on the jukebox. The entire concept is a bit weird and pretentiously over-reaching, yet it all melds together magically, creating a world where “our forefathers” and “a keggar on a Friday night” can live side by side. This strange menagerie is best illustrated in the liner notes where Abe Lincoln’s quote, “If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard” is placed directly above the Butthole Surfer’s lyrics, “Then there was the ever-present football player rapist.”
“Theme From Cheers” is probably the ultimate drinking song with shout-outs to “Guiness” , “Car Bombs”, and the college favorite “Keystone Light”:
The album does have its flaws, but the band somehow makes them work in their favor. Graetzer’s whiney, Conor Oberst inspired vocals can wear thin at times, yet no better voice fits the dire spirit of the music. The album also runs a bit long, yet you can’t hold back a muse that was definitely born to run.