Titus Andronicus - A Productive Cough - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Titus Andronicus - A Productive Cough

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2018-03-02
Titus Andronicus - A Productive Cough
Titus Andronicus - A Productive Cough

Some ink's been spilled comparing this latest by Titus Andronicus to the Pogues. But any comparison is superficial, not to mention completely off the mark. If we're making comparisons, a more fitting one would be The Replacements. Specifically, Hootenanny era Replacements. Which is what the entire vibe of A Productive Cough reminds me of. And that’s not a bad thing in my book. As far as Shane MacGowan’s unholy rasp, Stickles reminds me more of a grown up member of the Lollipop Gang with a chip on his shoulder. Aiming his ire at the frat party he’s forced to play in order to make the rent.

If one checks out the youtube doc about the making of this record, Stickles pretty much lays out his formula. The "pagan ritual" of getting the blood pumping and the foot tapping along with literary aspirations that give you something to think about. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel but a time-honored tradition dating back to Dylan. And like Dylan, as ragged as they are, there’s deep passion in Stickles’ vocals.

Given the emotional sock to the gut of the eight-minute opener, ‘Number One (New York)’ you have to wonder if the rest of A Productive Cough can ever hope to top it. Well, it doesn’t it try to. If you ask me, it’s brilliant sequencing. ‘Number One’ sounds like the howling end to it all, not the hello. An inspired rant. Which, after listening to the entirety of Cough makes you want to hit play again. A terrific way to kick off an album.

Next up is, ‘Real Talk’. Chockfull of swaggering horns and braggadocio. The horns taking us down south for a drunken tour through Crescent City. It’s a vibe that self-consciously summons Dylan’s ‘Rainy Day Women’. In fact, Dylan's influence is all over this record. ‘Real Talk’s’ ramshackle, devil may care attitude no doubt inspired by the likes of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. A song where Dylan once quipped, “you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.“ Taking his cue from there, Stickles growls in perfect Paul Westerberg fashion, “If the weather is bad as the weather man says, we’re in for a real big storm.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

‘Above The Bodega (Local Business)’ slows things down but keeps up the New Orleans groove. “I can’t keep a secret from the guy in the store downstairs”, Stickles confesses abetted by backing “Sha la la’s”. Its damn catchy tune and beautifully shambolic. A melody and performance that somehow can’t help but bring ‘Treatment Bound’ (off the Replacements’ Hootenanny) to mind.  

“Titus Andronicus records have always had their fair share of ballads,” Stickles explained in the Merge press release. “But they were always buried. Now they are the cornerstones.” With ‘Crass Tattoo’ that balladry comes to the fore. Instead of Stickles gruff caterwaul we have guest vocalist, Megg Farrell. It’s an intentional move, meant to jar the listener. But one wonders if it wouldn’t be even more effective and less contrived if Stickles sang it himself. In any event, this song really brings Sally Timms and the Mekons to mind, pulling the rug out from the album’s barroom atmosphere.

With ‘(I’m) Like A Rollling Stone’, Stickles tears the façade off any Dylan influence. Instead of pointing a finger at “you” as Dylan does, Stickles points the finger at himself. With none of the self-pity one would normally expect from such a stunt. I’ll be honest, it’s clever, its audacious but an ultimately contrived move. That’s not to say Stickles doesn’t play it to the hilt with real passion. But the novelty of it all wears off after repeated listens.    

‘Home Alone’ follows and is A Productive Cough’s most fallow moment. At eight minutes, the catchy riff grows as thin as the lyrics. Where the Replacement’s cover of Kiss’ ‘Black Diamond’ was full of cheek and charm, you can smell the beers and stale cigarettes behind this one. Things get back on track with the closer, ‘Mass Transit (Goin’ Loco)’. A countrified ballad whose lyrics begrudgingly rise to metaphor. A messy but majestic, way to pull out of the station to parts unknown. A song that again, brings The Replacements to mind. 

If I were a 15 year old kid, living in a dead end town in New Jersey, I’d light my rebellious Bic and raise it to the rafters for this entire album. A Productive Cough could serve as a Rosetta Stone to archaic finds like Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Pogues and yes, The Replacements. But I’m not a 15-year-old kid and have heard a lot of this before. That doesn’t mean this album sucks. That just means I’m an old fart. I may think I’ve heard it all before but there’s something to be said for carrying the torch. And let’s face it, that’s all Dylan, the Stones or anyone else you care to mention, ever did. That’s all music is, carrying the torch. So, here’s to Titus Andronicus and here’s to carrying the torch. 


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