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A band that repeats the phrase "you will always be a loser" toward the end of a five-minute song may come off as misanthropic, but suffering through the put-downs pays off in the end. Titus Andronicus finishes its magnum opus "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future" by singing "you will always be a loser" a whopping 30 times, always with the kind of fervor you hear during last call in a karaoke bar when patrons stumble over each other to sing "Don't Stop Believin'."
Frontman Patrick Stickles makes being a loser into a point of pride, surrounding himself with his loser company and finishing the song with three assuring words — "and that's okay."
Most of the songs by this New Jersey punk/bar-rock crossover band have equally long and ridiculous titles — "Richard II or Extraordinary Popular Dimensions and the Madness of Crowds (Responsible Hate Anthem)" is another one. Loser talk aside, this is really a fun punk band, and like most fun punk bands, this one also goes in for the silly, two-minute cuts. "Food Fight!" would make the Descendents proud, while "Titus Andronicus Forever," which repeats "the enemy is everywhere" with the occasional "no one seems to worry or care," is laden with paranoia.
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The short songs are fun, but the band really hits its stride with its longer tracks. A stand-out from last year's Local Business is "My Eating Disorder," eight minutes about Stickles' battle with selective eating disorder. The condition sounds simple enough, but in the singer's case, it prevents him from enjoying and keeping down some of his favorite foods.
"Cream of my compulsion rising to the tip of the spout / Screaming and convulsing, now I'm gonna spit it out / An amorphous monster makes his home inside my house" was one of the most honest and telling lyrics to come out of 2012. Like Stickles' aching belly, the tune escalates from its confessional start into pounding drums and fast-paced guitars as a refrain of "spit it out" descends, by the end of the song, into harried screaming.
Such a personal issue may not obviously translate to the live format, but like the enthusiastic loser chants of "No Future Part Three," fans seem to understand Stickles' plight: They're just as comfortable screaming along to the tail end of "My Eating Disorder."
When the band played Crescent Ballroom on Election Night 2012, Stickles apologized before playing the band's longest song, "The Battle of Hampton Roads," even encouraging fans to get up and refresh their beer, but nobody stirred. Fourteen-minute songs might seem like a risk in concert, but it was clear the band's diehard fans, who weren't expecting it, really saw it as a treat.
"Hampton Roads" follows the same sincere formula as Titus Andronicus' other standouts, escalating and becoming more passionate with each passing moment. Stickles' litany of ailments reads like a brutally honest session with a psychologist as he laments having no one to talk to, drinking to excess, smoking too much, even just being an asshole. But the listener feels empathy, instead of disgust, when he finally repeats "don't ever leave" until he's drowned out by the sound of bagpipes.
But Titus Androncius' songs are equally enjoyable without a deep dive into the lyrics. A rousing cry of "Tramps like us / Baby we were born to die" before the noodling guitar in "A More Perfect Union" is enough to bring even the dourest punk fans out of a funk and onto their feet to celebrate the Garden State with some moshing.