If you were so inclined, there’s a lot to put you off with regards to Titus Andronicus’ fourth album. After all, describing a record as a five act punk rock opera is enough to set alarm bells ringing. It’s not exactly a new concept mind, with both Green Day (American Idiot, now an actual stage show) and Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life both promising something similar. Certainly it suggests that the band who specialise in punk rock solutions are continuing to expand their horizons.
And how. For it’s opening moments, The Most Lamentable Tragedy sounds like your typical snotty American punk rock record, with huge hints of Stiff Little Fingers on ‘No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant’, but – with a running time of 93 minutes – there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre. An oddly classic rock feel appears on more than one occasion, with fellow New Jersey resident Bruce Springsteen a clear influence, and Titus Andronicus cast themselves as a band whose sense of history stretches beyond 1976.
Things take an even more strange turn in the album’s second half, after the minute’s silence of ‘[ intermission ]’. There are ballads (‘No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming’), celtic pop (‘Come On, Siobhán’), tracks as short as a minute (‘Please’) and as long as nine (‘(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID’), an eerie reading of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a cover of the Pogues’ ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, before closing with the dark folk of ‘Stable Boy’. Musically, it’s a tour de force.
But for the concept to totally work, the words would have to match this ambition. While not quite as impenetrable as the Fucked Up record, the narrative of a hero who is visited by his doppelgänger and goes through subsequent life experiences isn’t all that clear. The sense of singer Patrick Stickles drawing from his own experiences of depression is unavoidable though, with his screams of “I lost my mind” and “let me show you my fatal flaw” opening a door on a troubled world. He may have chosen to articulate it through fictional device, but there’s no doubting this is a very personal story
A record designed to be listened to from start to finish, it’s also one that probably needs to be owned on triple vinyl – studied as much as any work of art. So don’t be put off by the concept, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a most assured triumph.