Sunday, 28 October 2012
Titus Andronicus - Local Business
Here’s what’s wrong with Local Business: it isn't scared. The Monitor was a towering victory of angst and conquest, tied together with furious instrumentation and a heroically unrestrained attitude towards channelling its vision in the rawest way that it possibly could. Titus Andronicus often get labelled as being grounded and relatable, which has never really rung true given the scope of their body of work (civil war allusions, bagpipe solos, really long songs). Following up something like that’s an impossible task, so obviously they follow it with a record that’s far more accessible and better-sounding than anything else that they've released.
Not being scared means that it can take some fairly substantial risks, like Patrick Stickles cutting down on the hyper-literate lyrics and gasping delivery and opting instead for repeated phrases (instead of the gang-chants of yore) or the decision to make the whole thing sound really, really like The Clash. Local Business is the sound of a band testing their limits and finding that actually there’s not a ton of places left for them to go. By streamlining their sound and doing away with additional musicians (by the time the last track rolls in those bagpipes seem a very long time ago) it stops them from being able to execute the furious ascents that they perfected in the space of two albums and endless touring. The tour that pre-empted the album’s release was in retrospect a warning of what to expect, namely that shorn of their initial fury and ambition they lapsed comfortable friendliness and docile familiarity.
This is where it starts to get frustrating, because in that familiarity Stickles has allowed himself to write two incredible tracks that would sound totally out of place in the context of The Monitor or The Airing of Grievances, what with their steady drive and overwhelming restraint. The first is Ecce Homo, which opens the album and pushes power pop guitars to the front of the mix and builds gradually upward, assisted by key changes and melodies that buffer the vocals as opposed to reflecting and appropriating their emotions. The second is In a Big City, which is easily one of the best things that they’ve recorded and gives Stickles an opportunity to uses his ordeal to typify the struggle for something in a world where the easy option is to disengage and let it pass you by. In the space of three and a half minutes the same highs and lows present in their longest tracks are hit with a perfect mix of misanthropy and joy.
It’s hard to reach a judgement on Local Business; it doesn’t carry the heft of its forbearers and it feels more scatter-shot with the expected moments all being delivered with precision: the short, largely instrumental interludes and the over-confessional epic (My Eating Disorder, which veers between sarcastic commentary on Stickles battle with selective eating disorder and parts that sound uncomfortably like Meat Loaf, which manages to make it an experience that straddles catharsis and cringeyness with uncomfortable gusto). But the addition of sluggish bluesy knees-ups (I Am The) Electric man and a finale that spends most of its ten minutes crawling towards some great moment before changing its mind and settling with an (admittedly inspired) guitar solo and some bog-standard wailing harmonica. At its worst, you can see that this an album that its creators needed to make, exposing their flaws and highlighting their skills while striving to showcase their unwavering vision, even if that means taking risks that were never going to work in the first place.