Austin L. Ray
When we last left Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles in 2010, he was feeling less than optimistic about the world at large. On The Monitor’s epic, 14-minute closer, “The Battle Of Hampton Roads,” he asked, “Is there a human alive that can look themselves in the face / without winking, or say what they mean / without drinking, or believe in something / without thinking, ‘What if somebody doesn’t approve?’” already knowing the bleak, negative answer.
Stickles kicks off his band’s third full-length, Local Business, with a reiteration of sorts, singing, “I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless / and there’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose.” Indeed, Local Business brings with it no such reprieve to the everyday doom and gloom explored in both The Monitor and 2008’s The Airing Of Grievances. If anything, as that opening line suggests, the album is here to remind listeners that evils resulting from conformity, social constructs, eating disorders, and all manner of other things forced upon their modern consumerist society are regularly occurring scourges that must be taken on at all costs if they are to truly live.
If you’ve ever screamed “THE ENEMY IS EVERYWHERE” approximately a dozen times in your kitchen, scaring the neighbors and maybe even yourself, then you know what it is to live like this.
Heavy shit, man. But Titus Andronicus fans expect as much by now. They’re used to Stickles’ ragged, Oberstian voice straining to stay above a chorus of air-guitar-worthy riffage, songs that frequently stretch beyond the six-, seven-, or eight-minute mark, and a veritable avalanche of big ideas. Stickles’ voice is cleaned up a little here, as is the production, and his band has tightened up as well. Where the first two Titus albums included contributions from more than 30 musicians, Local Business—and its subsequent tour—features only five.
While Stickles probably isn’t too much fun at parties (he’d spend all his time sulking in the corner or railing at the establishment to someone who’s not listening or complaining about the futility of even having a party in the first place), he would be a good pal for intense porch discussions. Listening to his band is a little like that—a window, of sorts, into the mind of a troubled, intelligent person who needs to air his grievances in order to truly live.
Three guitars, a sense of humor in the face of despair, and an unwavering commitment to the underrated art of the rock ’n’ roll sing-along are what define Local Business. The brief, rollicking, mostly instrumental “Food Fight!” prefaces the lengthy, self-explanatory, overtly lyrical “My Eating Disorder.” On “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter,” the exhilarating repetition of “I hear you took it to another level: Here it goes again!” is on par with “You’ll always be a loser!” and “Your life is over!” in the canon of raise-a-beer-and-shout Titus Andronicus lines.
There might not be a better rock band right now at pairing an everything-is-fucked worldview with an it’ll-be-okay-with-another-guitar-solo chaser, and no frontman better at pairing the glorious freedom of being an individual with the pain and responsibilities and confusion that come with that individuality.
“Don’t tell me I was born free,” Stickles begins “In A Small Body,” completing the thought with, “That joke has been old since high school.” That sums up Stickles’ modus operandi. A square peg in the first world’s round hole, Stickles espouses a classic punk-rock ethos within the framework of quote-unquote “indie rock,” shining a light on his frustration so that others can relate. He says what he believes without thinking about the approval of others in a way that keeps suggesting maybe everything’s not so worthless after all.