2010’s ‘The Monitor‘ was a watershed moment for New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, one that saw them take the blend of beer-soaked street punk and indie rock self-awareness from their 2008 debut and stretch it out to the size of a sold-out Springsteen stadium.
It was a bold, career-defining piece of work, dutifully respected in most circles and religiously revered in others, so much that it was an expected – accepted, even – fact that whatever these misfits cooked up next would inevitably pale in comparison to its predecessor.
So rather than attempt to outdo the bombast of ‘The Monitor’, they opted to simply undo it instead. Gone are the theatrical Civil War monologues, special guest appearances, and blustering bagpipe solos, and in their place is a leaner, relatively straight forward rock record in the form of ‘Local Business‘.
Not to say that this no-frills approach has led them into strange uncharted territory. The blueprint they have laid out over the past four years is undoubtedly here, particularly in the first three songs. Big interlocking guitars merge with road-tripping drum charges, while frontman Patrick Stickles’ pulls it together with his aggressive whine and long-winded lyrics about such weighty topics as the meaninglessness of the universe, babies that will never be born, and the rush of mortality that comes with witnessing a fatal automobile accident. Heavy stuff for your average group, but for Stickles and company this sort of existential dread is pretty much par for the course.
The album doesn’t quite develop its own separate identity until midway through the set. ‘Food Fight!‘ is a rowdy bar-brawl stomper featuring just two words (you can guess which two), and ‘Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)‘ has just three – “I’m going insane” – which Stickles shouts repeatedly over pummeling East Coast hardcore riffs.
Sandwiched between these uncharacteristic acts of brevity lies one exhilarating, eight-minute track that serves as the emotional core of the record. ‘My Eating Disorder‘ is a weird roller-coaster ride all unto itself, beginning as a prototypical Andronicus arrangement before derailing halfway through into a series of slick Joan Jett hooks, brief hair metal breakdowns, and a slow-building climax fit for a meaner, nastier version of ‘Pinkerton‘-era Weezer. The whole thing is both catchy and complex, and grows only more inscrutable once you learn that it’s essentially a detailed account of Stickles’ own bizarre battle with Selective Eating Disorder.
In its entirety, however, ‘Local Business’ does lack the conceptual focus and narrative arc that made their earlier efforts immediately leap through the speakers. It slows towards a crawl once it pushes past the thirty-minute mark, and ultimately struggles to find its footing at times down the stretch.
Yet there are still several poignant and memorable ideas scattered throughout, some that perhaps function better as individual instances rather than as part of larger framework, whether it’s the hokey, Cougar Mellencamp chorus of ‘(I Am The) Electric Man‘ or the parade of Isaac Brock-worthy one-liners that sum up closer ‘Tried To Quit Smoking‘.
It’s ironic because the reverse could be said for the album itself. While it lacks the strength to stand out all on its own, when placed within the spectrum of previous Titus Andronicus releases, it becomes a logical, commendable extension to their already impressive catalogue.