Titus Andronicus - An Obelisk - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Titus Andronicus - An Obelisk

by Tim Sentz Rating:6 Release Date:2019-06-21
Titus Andronicus - An Obelisk
Titus Andronicus - An Obelisk

Last year, in one of the more bewildering moves I’ve seen from a punk band, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus released A Productive Cough - quite literally their worst album to date. Not only was it largely bereft of any trace of the snarling punk the band has been churning out for over a decade now, but it was also a slog to get through. Moments would meander and Patrick Stickles’ vocals and lyrics came off uninspired. To add insult to injury, the band released an EP in October called Home Alone on Halloween, that further dismissed their fanbase in favor of another extended jam session for A Productive Cough’s most nauseating track “Home Alone.”

Well, that was then, and this is now. Titus Andronicus returns with An Obelisk, their sixth LP to date. At 38 minutes, it’s also the shortest album by them to date - something the detractors of the band’s gargantuan fourth LP The Most Lamentable Tragedy, without a doubt their most ambitious record. Stickles attempt to create a rock-opera paid off, as Tragedy was hailed as a return to form after the lukewarm Local Business (which deserves defence, it’s pretty good). Obviously, The Monitor is still their best album, but An Obelisk is meant to be another “return to form.”

It is, and it isn’t. Much like Cloud Nothings did last year with their rebound album Last Building Burning, Titus try their hand at making a smaller album in scope - a straight forward punk album, without any frills, or interludes, or segues, or even any ambition. It’s just a punk record. While A Productive Cough was polarizing, at least the ambition was intact, even if it failed to really strike a nerve with most listeners. Every TA album has its fans, some found Cough to be a heartfelt record by Stickles. There’s merit to An Obelisk, but it also feels conflicted coming from the same mind who brought us classics like “The Battle of Hampton Roads” and “My Time Outside the Womb.” And while the aggressively fun and anecdotal musings of Stickles are still present, An Obelisk feels more like a step back.

This time they bring classic punk rocker Bob Mould into the fray, and Mould’s rugged touch can be felt throughout An Obelisk’s production. The tracks are tight and loud with big riffs and thunderous drums that hearken back to the Husker Du sound. It’s this meeting of the minds that should have produced a memorable sound, but with songs like “Tumult Around the World” it feels less like a collaboration, and more like a cumbersome detour from what everyone knows and loves about Titus Andronicus. The repetitiveness of “Tumult Around the World” doesn’t ignite the senses anywhere close to how “Your life is over, your life is over” on “Titus Andronicus” from The Airing of Grievances. It comes off half-hearted here, uninspired, and rushed.

The same feeling comes from the penultimate track “The Lion Inside” as Stickles rambles through verses, but tries to dull the agony by bringing in a backing “na-na-na” as if to encourage folks to get up and dance and sing along. What was once a band that could tear down a bar like the best of them, has matured into an unrecognizable glorified cover band. On the opening cut “Just Like Ringing a Bell,” Stickles takes aim at things he doesn’t care for - modern televisions, other nameless rock bands, and as usual tries to mesh it with some more copy-paste lackluster chorus. In preparation for An Obelisk, Stickles stated that there’s a narrator to the album, but it’s not Stickles, though they do have a lot in common apparently. So while he takes liberties with identity, and off-loading his problems behind a mask, he ends up sabotaging An Obelisk’s most rousing moments.

Despite this, An Obelisk has its moments. “Within the Gravitron” is a slick centerpiece to the album, with an extended instrumental heart that calls back to Local Business. “Troubleman Unlimited” is reminiscent of “Mr. E. Mann” from  The Most Lamentable Tragedy, with its more endearing lyrics, and the way it progresses naturally, without an abruptness for shock value like the brief but promising “On the Street” does. The slickness continues on “Beneath the Boot,” another cut that recalls some of the best moments from Tragedy. The only thing that keeps these songs from being classics is how unimaginative they are.

The constant narrative across TA records is to place the band into a new world. The Most Lamentable Tragedy was about depression, and the journey through it as a man meets his doppelganger. The Monitor was backdropped by the Civil War, and the way America changed. Here, it’s more anger but it meanders, like on “I Blame Society,” where the title again is just blurted out repeatedly to hopefully drive home that the narrator clearly blames society for everything. An Obelisk feels rushed and thoughtless compared to what’s come before it. After over a decade as a band, it seems the well has run dry for Titus Andronicus.

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