Titus Andronicus: The Monitor, "Nothing Not New"

Artist: Titus Andronicus

Label: The Monitor
Release date: March 9
Label: XL

My wife thinks this project is destroying my taste in music. I know she's frustrated that we can't play the hits around the house for another 9.5 months. Believe me, I'm not too thrilled about it, either. But what are you gonna do? This thing runs through December 31.

Anyway, the last record I really raved about, The Soft Pack's self-titled debut, brought nothing but scorn and derision from the missus. She likes "the rock and/or roll" but she thought Soft Pack neither rocked nor rolled. Yesterday, I was all about Ted Leo, which I'll sheepishly offer up tonight. Wish me luck.

Anyway, maybe she's right, because I've just found a winner for the fourth day in a row.
So, maybe I am loosening my standards. But I do like this new record by the New Jersey band known as Titus Andronicus. I expected to hate it because of the pretentious band name (a Shakespeare character) and album title (a Civil War ship; I feared it was gonna be a concept record about the Civil War). And then I saw the lengths of those songs: 7:10, 8:54, 14:02(!). Uh-oh. I thought I was entering Joanna Newsom territory.

But out of the gate comes T.A., blasting with a great two-chord riff over a rollicking and rolling drum beat. Then, the breathless singer, referencing both Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen in the same couplet, sings, "I never wanted to change the world / I'm just looking for a new New Jersey / Cuz tramps like us / Baby, we were born to die." Cue majestic J. Mascis-style fuzz-guitar solo. And, 30 seconds later, a giant, whoa-whoa-whoa gang vocal -- like it's an Irish drinking song or something.  

Before the first song was over, I wondered whether I was listening to the next great American rock band. Eh, probably not. But there is a lot to like about this band. For one, there's the obvious nods to Springsteen on several levels: epic, almost operatic, songs; huge, anthemic choruses; and a desperate urgency in the performances. 

Later in the record, they experiment with garage-country and, more than once, they sound like a rocked-up and Jersey-ized Pogues, for all the chanty-ness and traditional Irish chord changes.

The problem? Well, the songs are, like I said, long. And therefore, they start to sound a lot alike. Fortunately, just when the glaze-over factor is about to kick in, they find a way to juice the sound a little. Still, shorter songs and an economy of ideas would suit these guys tremendously.

When he was young, Springsteen got away with the epic songs, but he also knew how to write a hit. I sense that T.A.'s got a hit in them somewhere, but at this point, they aren't exactly radio-ready. But I could see a big-time producer tightening things up and sharpening the edges and turning these guys into something much bigger.

Note: Titus Andronicus will be at Chryo Arts in Scottsdale on Monday, March 22. 

Best song: "A More Perfect Union," the opening track.
Rotation: Medium-heavy
Deja Vu: Springsteen meets The Pogues
I'd rather listen to: Goodnight Loving (T.A. also reminds me a lot of G.L., for the garage-country thing T.A. does pretty well)
Grade: B+ (mostly because the record is 15 minutes too long)

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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