Titus Andronicus

A Productive Cough

Written by: MIN on 27/03/2018 11:07:22

New Jersey punk-rock outfit Titus Andronicus has been known to divide its audience per release these past years (just look at our previous review of the band’s past 90 minute-album, “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”). To me, though, it’s been an interesting ride and so far I’ve enjoyed the band’s outputs, which is why I wasn’t really concerned when Titus Andronicus’ frontman, Patrick Stickles, earlier this year announced that the band’s upcoming LP would feature fewer punkish outbursts and focus more on the band’s slower yet equally theatrical material. On their webpage, Titus Andronicus’ compare this new shift to that of Bob Dylan in the mid-60s (from acoustic to electric), which, when looking at the quality of Dylan’s outputs during the late 60s, is quite a statement, but it intrigued me nonetheless. Unfortunately, “A Productive Cough”, Titus Andronicus’ fifth studio album, is quite a stretch from not only Dylan’s heydays, but also Andronicus’ own previously released efforts.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its merits. As mentioned in our “Most Anticipated Albums of 2018” feature, the first single off, and album-opener on, “A Productive Cough”, “Number One (In New York)”, is an inspired eight-minute politically charged and emotionally overwhelming piano-ballade that’s traded in the furious guitars for horns, bells and even a flute. Stickles lashes out at everyone from congress to the busy people and various villains of New York before ultimately despising himself and his own shortcomings: ”Declare myself president of the emptiness // say I’m Rembrandt of dancing on the precipice”. It’s a long and draining effort throughout, but the reward upon repeated listenings is remarkable and truly unveils the band’s knack for writing clever, tongue-tying lyrics. Aided by Stickles venomously intoxicated delivery, the song’s poignancy almost gives meaning to the comparison to Dylan in the 60s, initially raising hope for this record being a highlight in Titus Andronicus’ career.

As already spoiled previously in this review, “A Productive Cough” unfortunately isn’t a career highlight. As inspired as “Number One (In New York)” is, as lackluster and lengthy are tracks like “Real Talk” and “Home Alone”, where cheap analogies like ”If the weather’s as bad as the weatherman says // we’re in for a real bad year” during the chorus in “Real Talk”, ‘cleverly’ hinting at America’s current political situation, occur way too often. Furthermore, there’s the 9 minute-cover of, yes, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, slightly reinterpreted with a switch from a second person pronoun to first person, featuring a ridiculous name call of just about every member of The Rolling Stones. Where Stickles’ vocals on the album’s first track walk a perfectly tread thin line between overly spiteful and drunkenly angry, his voice on some of these songs simply dive headfirst into the latter category too often, ultimately more resembling a Tom Waits parody than an actually intense delivery.

Musically, there’s nothing really wrong with any of the songs, as they’re all tightly delivered, and even some of the lengthier piece somewhat redeem themselves, like when a finely delivered guitar solo arrives in “Home Alone”. The problem is that these tracks that don’t work as well as some of the album’s highlights are simply too long for their own good and ultimately make up about half of the record. Genre-wise, Stickles and company has not only lend from Robert Zimmerman, but even tap into the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger while retaining that late 60s Rolling Stones honkey tonk-backdrop, and it’s nice to hear them perform something else than the overly ambitious punk-rock operas and just jam some tunes. These jams make it all the much better when the band actually return to their emotional core, as is the case on the folksy piano bar-ballade “Crass Tattoo”, which features Megg Farrell on vocal duties. Her delivery of Stickles’ words about said tattoo, and what it represents to him, is haunting and ought to strike a chord in most ink-clad punk-rockers who’ve ever provided skin for the needle.

While “A Productive Cough” is certainly Titus Andronicus’ weakest record, it provides a few moments that stand out as evident highlights in the band’s career. Although it often feels more like a jam session than the ballade-filled opus we were promised, there’s something to find upon repeated sit-throughs, even if the record turned you off during your first listen. I’d be lying if I said that I’m not hoping for Andronicus to return to form upon their next outing, but if you cut the fat from the bone on this one, there’s still enough heartwrenching tenderness scattered across the band’s fifth LP to keep you saturated until the next one.


Download: Number One (In New York), Crass Tattoo, Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco)
For The Fans Of: Bruce Springsteen (during his Seeger sessions), The Rolling Stones, Gang of Youths, Fucked Up
Listen: Facebook

Release date 02.03.2018
Merge Records

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