Titus Andronicus – Local Business (3.5)
What can you possibly do to follow up on a masterpiece? This question must have invariably hovered over the group Titus Andronicus when they were faced with crafting another album following their epic, The Monitor. The Monitor fits the definition of a masterpiece so snugly that I wouldn’t be surprised if lead singer Patrick Sickles and his gang had struggled with the above question for quite some time before deciding to go into the studio and write a straight up rock album.
Local Business, Andronicus’s third album, sees the band trying to rein things back somewhat. Gone are the readings of Albert Camus or the overarching historical thematics. Instead, the band has replaced its prog-rock ambitions with a renewed focus on autobiography. Sickles’s lyrics revolve almost exclusively around the life of a twenty-something as well as strictly personal issues like his struggles with a rare eating disorder. The result is decidedly scaled down. There’s nothing inherently wrong with attempting to strip things down, but at times the old tricks Androncus could rely on for their older albums don’t work quite as well in this setting. Their use of a continual refrain, which used to sound energetic, can now sound somewhat tired. Smaller interludes, which in earlier albums had served as a connective tissue for their grand themes, now sound like they’re stalling for time.
The subject that Sickle returns to again and again is his own body. The body becomes a means for escape and something that he is trapped within. Sex and alcohol and their bodily impact serve as a means to flee existential questions, a means to escape from the oppressive life of the mind. And yet, at the same time, there is a sense that the body itself is also a trap. The first song off the album, “Ecce Homo,” is a reference to a genre in classical art that depicts the torture of Jesus and translates into “Behold the Man.” In it Sickles sings, “We’re breaking out of our bodies now / Time to see what’s outside them.” But his attempts to escape his body appears to be refuted later in the song “My Eating Disorder,” where Sickles recounts his struggles with selective eating disorder. No matter what, he doesn’t seem capable of thinking his way outside of the choices his body has made for him.
There’s no doubt that Titus Andronicus are a bright group of musicians who will leave behind them a great oeuvre. And even if Local Business isn’t as impressive as their last two outings, there are some fantastic tracks here. “In a Big City” is the kind of Pogues meets Springsteen that we have come to expect from this band. And “I Am the Electric Man” is a surprisingly effective left turn into the realm of what can only be described as Motown R&B with a ragged edge. Overall, Local Business isn’t a bad stop gap between now and Titus Andronicus’s next magnum opus.