They can't sing. They can't really play. On paper, this is just tired and played-out punk rock. But there's more to this than the sum of its parts, way the hell more.
This album is a big step up from their dismissable debut album, "The Airing of Grievances," a badly-mixed soup of distorted instruments and vocals, giving the impression that the band had nothing to say, but wanted to say it loudly. With "The Monitor," the sound is cleaned up; they obviously have something to say, and they're willing to let it be heard.
What they're saying somehow combines imagery of the American Civil War with the lyricist's move to Boston. It's a headscratcher. It's something about living without a great cause, and dealing with an enemy as undefeatable as an invading army. Lofty quotes from Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and Walt Whitman are sandwiched between songs about personal pettiness and self-pity: "Heard the man with the hotepad say, / 'Yeah, they're funny, but they drink too...
I wish I could remember how I learned about this album--it sure wasn't from how famous Titus Andronicus is. But they deserve to be well-known, even celebrated. It's been a long time since I've heard punk-flavored rock as whip-smart and satisfying as what's on "The Monitor," or songs as complex and accomplished, or lyrics as clever and poetic as these:
Solidarity's going to give a lot less than it'll take Is there a girl at this college who hasn't been raped? Is there a boy in this town that's not exploding with hate? 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?" Is there a soul on this Earth that isn't too frightened to move?
And so now when I drink, I'm going to drink to excess And when I smoke, I will smoke gaping holes in my chest And when I...
A ramshackle ride through a loosely-themed album that somehow maintains its concept the whole way through. More than that, these songs are anthemic, joyous and bleak, often in the same breath. Destined to be a niche classic, even if they fall apart because of it.
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