Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Titus Andronicus

The Monitor


Mar 29, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Even if The Who are the only non-prog rock band that ever really pulled off what could truly be called concept albums, it’s been entertaining over the years hearing musicians hang songs around a theme. Usually.

With The Monitor, Titus Andronicus co-opts the Civil War for use as a metaphor in a group of songs about someone who leaves New Jersey for Boston and is unhappy with his decision. It’s a laudably ambitious prospect, to be sure, especially carried to double-album length.

The Civil War can be an unwieldy creative device, for those who might brave such a move, but the band steps around that potential muddle by cherry-picking references and elements of the war and draping them over the songs for presumable poignancy. This gets strange quickly.

The opening track, “A More Perfect Union” is a prime example. The lyrics draw from disparate inspirational touchstones, beginning with Springsteen with “I never wanted to change the world when I’m looking for a new New Jersey/‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to die” to the closing unison voices singing “Rally around the flag/Glory, glory hallelujah/His truth is marching on.”

Elsewhere on that track, singer Patrick Stickles switches character, lurching from Jersey into a smattering of war-period references, with seemingly little connection other than the fact that Civil War soldiers endured hardships just like someone dealing with buyer’s remorse after changing locales. The track that follows, “Titus Andronicus Forever,” presumably drives home that parallel with a chant of “The enemy is everywhere.”

Musically, the band plays like The Replacements in alternately scrappy/thoughtful approaches, with Stickles usually emoting like Conor Oberst at his most thoughtfully melodramatic. The execution here might have seemed a bit more authentic had they been going for a pure concept album with a Civil War theme; unfortunately, hearing Stickles locked in bloodied-but-unbowed mode throughout the record doesn’t add any greater emotional depth to the intertwining themes.

As the album closes in on the fourteenth minute of the closing “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” you may have already found yourself wondering if Johnny will ever be marching home. (www.titusandronicus.net)

Author rating: 4/10

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Tyrannosaurus Max
March 30th 2010

I’m definitely not okay with this album getting a 4.  Just thought I’d let the internet and Under The Radar know.

jarmes jimusch
March 30th 2010

Tyrannosaurus Max is onto something here.

March 31st 2010

Agreed. The Subradar is having a failure to communicate.

Claire M.
April 2nd 2010

Under the Radar is WAY underrating this innovative second album by Titus Andronicus.
An album with the theme of the American Civil War, with quotes by Abraham Lincoln voiced by the band’s high school drama teacher, ‘The Monitor’ is an exceptional depiction of music with a purpose. The puropse of this lies in its own self-indulgence, which is usually a word musically coined with great disdain, yet with this album it is in itself sublime perfection. After all, can you really not have an album about the Civil War that is NOT self-indulgent?
This is an album of Loud, a requiem of references to the past…If you listen to Under the Radar you will be missing out on something unique..If you listen to me, and Rolling Stone (who call this album “excellent”), you will be discovering a something different than the usual indie fare: even if you do not like this album it will most certainly be something that you will acknowledge as an interesting risk.

I give it 4/5 stars.

April 8th 2010

I think the problem here is that the reviewer had a hard time either hearing the correct lyrics or searching the internet for them. The first bit he quotes is actually “I never wanted to change the world BUT I’m looking for a new New Jersey”, a statement of purpose that quickly takes the scale from grand back to intimate, which informs the entire album. Instead, the reviewer decided to use the opportunity to point out the Springsteen paraphrase (in case you missed it…).

Having misinterpreted perhaps the most important moment on the opening track, the reviewer did not have much hope in getting the rest of the album right, either.

Also, the Who are hardly the only band who can pull off a “concept” album. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”? “Seperation Sunday”? Pick a Mountain Goats or Magnetic Fields album?

March 26th 2012


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Avant Punk
December 2nd 2014

That line “I never wanted to change the world but I’m looking for a new New Jersey/‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to die” isn’t just a Springsteen reference. It’s an homage to Billy Bragg’s “A New England” as well (“I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England, I’m just looking for another girl”).

What makes this album that much greater to me is the fact that he returns to Bragg and Springsteen in the ending track “The Battle of Hampton Roads”: the first minute or so of the song is reminiscent musically of Bragg’s “A New England” and of course he name-drops Springsteen.

It’s a breakup album. He’s on his way back to Jersey and he’s the same guy he was when he left. “Now I’m heading west on 84 again and I’m as much of an asshole as I’ve ever been.”

I wish the reviewer had made a little more effort to understand the album’s lyrics, because hidden underneath an album that just fucking rocks is one of the most lyrically dense and brilliant albums I’ve ever heard.