Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

For my money, Titus Andronicus’ magic has receded in direct proportion to the Jersey band’s trading of 1980s Irish rock riffs (The Pogues) for 1970s ones (Thin Lizzy). This cycle hit its nadir with 2012’s regrettable Local Business. Frontman Patrick Stickles has always churned through bandmates at an alarming rate, but during this period he lost several key contributors to 2010’s career-making The Monitor – most notably bassist Ian Graetzer, the longtime sidekick who seemed to keep him moored to the real world.

I had the occasion to speak with Stickles around this juncture, and he was kind of a dick – not to a “your music is never going to sound the same” level, but his was one of the more difficult interviews I’d conducted since the days of coked-out British imports. Seems there were other demons at work – a bit later Titus parted ways with its label, and then there was the bizarre Confederate flag incident which left a combative Stickles vowing to never play Athens again.

So after a longer-than-usual layoff that prompted Stickles to post a “Sorry about the Delay” mixtape comes a 29-track, 94-minute, self-described rock opera. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a vaguely autobiographical tale of manic depression, self-medication, bulimia and romance told in an even more grandiose scale than The Monitor. If it’s possible to simultaneously issue a mea culpa and a stiff middle finger, The Most Lamentable Tragedy accomplishes that feat.

Granted, many of its 29 tracks are intentionally throwaway connective tissue, but I’d be hard-pressed to find more than half an hour of keepers here. Stickles stumbles on his usually compelling marathons (“(S)he Said/(S)he Said” starts strong but disintegrates halfway through its nine minutes) and most of the brief thrash tracks sound a bit cookie-cutter. But here’s the kicker – that keeper half-hour is really good, and it runs the stylistic gamut: the barroom swagger of “Fatal Flaw,” the Garden State pastiche of “Fired Up,” the on-the-mark punk fury of “Dimed Out.” Most of these highlights are clustered in Acts III and IV, straddling the two-thirds mark of a triple album.

Best of all, “Come on, Siobhan” latches onto a different ’80s Irish reference, gleefully channeling Dexy’s while transporting Eileen and her suitor to a seedy New Jersey street corner with a come-on worthy of a derelict Springsteen or Billy Joel: “Just two Catholic kids out on the run/ Either from God or a guy with a gun.” Owen Pallett’s string arrangements are a big asset to this and other highlights – although they’re also the centerpiece of many of the annoying interstitials.

The Most Lamentable Tragedy can be heard as Titus Andronicus’ valedictory speech, encompassing both the warts and the glories and conquering some new terrain to boot. Just expect to succumb to a few mobile phone distractions during Stickles’ long-winded delivery.

Titus Andronicus
The Most Lamentable Tragedy