Titus Andronicus – Local Business
XL Recordings 2012
As far as self-professed nihilists go, Titus Andronicus are the dingiest, the booziest, the most completely aware, revelling in their shit-stained universe like a technicolour dreamcoat of worthlessness. Local Business, their third album, comes essentially defined as an album of meaningless Replacements rock ‘n’ roll, beginning by celebrating resentment like the gang bumped into Michel Foucault ‘round the corner and decided there’s no escaping the bitter, repressive pill that is life. “I think by now we’ve established that everything is inherently worthless and there is nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose,” Stickles sings, like a song to self, a declaration that, after building up nothing and battling with it like an actual fucking civil war, there’s little to do but sit in the squalor and smile. If you’re worried that Local Business serves you little, that it’s quaint, short, lacking concept- that it’s not punk rock through a practical, patterned lense- who could blame you? This is a band who named themselves after a big bloody play, who made something so monumental in The Monitor that they can probably never come down from it. The aftermath, this, the jittery one-punch Local Business, is practically a joke.
What Local Business entails though, in all its dramatic-comedy borderlines, is that age-old poetical cliché, as made famous, presumably, by melodramatic Facebook pages: behind every joke there’s a layer of truth, or, in Stickes’ case, behind every joke there’s a man throwing his life away, or having it wrecked by a manipulative universe going nowhere. Local Business feels like a far more accepting record of its neuroses than The Monitor; the gang-vocals are sillier, less taglines to mission statements and more pantomimic jingles. “Food Fight!” is a joke before the dark wave of “My Eating Disorder,” and “Titus Andronicus VS The Absurd Universe” is two minutes of a band rocking out as a quintet for the frills. From a band who tagged a nine minute song with chants of “It’s still us against them and they’re winning!” Titus Andronicus seem, on Local Business to be treating their aphorisms with a sense of silly: no longer incredulous, drunk and confused by the universe, Local Business is a messy, bizarre account of things Stickles and co. know they will never really understand. And so yes, “Food Fight!” is the silliest thing he’s recorded with this band, all chants and tuneless harmonicas where your nine minute epic should be, but “My Eating Disorder,” washes over it like a dark, dark wave, a list of pains and struggles that can only be explained in their processes, and not the reasons why or even an attempt to find them.
“In a Big City,” the most distinctly anthemic song in Stickles’ career, seems to make a fair point about him and his band- if it sounds like they’ve changed on Local Business, become more closed off and wackier by eliminating all the recurring players on The Monitor, at least they’re always this band, one talking about what it is to be an awful (average!) human among a load of others with grass greener: “I grew up on one side of the river / I was a disturbed dangerous drifter / moved to the other side of the river / now I’m a drop in a deluge of hipsters.” A song like this has more levity than those that came before it, but none of the weight is shed; Titus Andronicus is still a band feeling this all quite heavily, even if a joke can spare their troubles. Hell, it’s not as if you can reject any of these songs on the basis of the band’s ability to shoot them loud and proud, not even “(I Am The) Electric Man,” another piece of look-behind-you! pantomime gold, played sweetly and comically but ever so profoundly. Titus Andronicus rollick through this album, saying what they feel they need to and occasionally a few other dumb things, but never insincerely. Less wide-eyed Springsteen and more weird scratchy Replacements is the verdict. Really, it’s more meaninglessness in meaningful songs.
Local Business ends with another long, meandering send-off about the discovery of shame, as was the long journey of “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Unlike its predecessor, though, “Tried to Quit Smoking” is the work of the same sad-sac in resigned slacker mode, easy to imagine lying slouched in an armchair with the guitar pressed up close, humming high lyrics that are excuses for all the bad times (“it’s not that I wanted to hurt you, I just didn’t care if I did”). Local Business feels as pressed with adrenaline through its run as the albums before it, but this final indictment of meaningless life is as vitally summative of the album as anything else, a stony acceptance of what’s happened and a hundred justifications lacked. There are enough lyrics in their world to tell you that a Titus Andronicus record isn’t as much medicine for bad times as it is a time to grieve and grin, and so Local Business may not look up to the sky like The Monitor did, but there’s no denying this is the same band, done searching, perhaps, but rocking out to the persuasion of pointlessness. “There’s nothing for me to do now but turn the radio up loud, put Eric’s sunglasses back on and black it out.” Just five guys, hangin’ out and relaying basic philosophical arguments about nothingness. Blast it loud.
While the first two albums were elaborate concoctions, Local Business is of the earth. Titus Andronicus the studious recording project and Titus Andronicus the raucous touring machine are no longer two distinct beings; there is only Titus Andronicus, rock and roll band. This is to say, it was recorded primarily live with precious few overdubs, with an elite squad of musicians.