On their third release, despite threatening us throughout their victoriously venomous career, Titus Andronicus finally sound as deliriously absurd as they claim the universe they inhabit to be. While their raucous self-titled debut and ambitious conceptual Civil War epic The Monitor raged against the void with an ironic sense of purpose, a nihilistic manifesto so harsh and pronounced, so passionately and poetically expressed that the world of Titus Andronicus felt as if it had a point, even if front man Patrick Stickles howled that it didn’t. On Local Business the New Jersey indie punks appear to have finally let out the oars. The album floats aimlessly on an absurd sea that never reaches land.
Though Stickles is as clever and crude as ever, viciously observing on “In a Small Body” that his “dick’s too short to fuck the whole world” before launching into a scatological rant, he hardly seems as desperate to revel in the twisted fullness of the human condition as in previous albums. Whereas The Monitor was unapologetically rousing and put drunken faith in its combative anthems, Local Business is too silly and lazy to take on its existential themes with the seriousness that The Monitor often employed. It is a fun, old school punk record, but lacks the endearing vitality Titus Andronicus has delivered in the past.
The looseness and hollowness that accompanies Local Business does provide Stickles and company with space to expand their repertoire. Classic-rocker “(I Am) The Electric Man” finds Titus Andronicus mimicking The Rolling Stones with surprising success. On an album screaming with songs that sound stolen from The Sex Pistols and The Fall, however, the track feels misplaced with its smooth tunefulness and lyrical simplicity. Elsewhere, goofy throwaway numbers like “Food Fight!” and “Titus Andronicus v. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” seem ill-advised even if they do convincingly convey how much Titus Andronicus just don’t care about anything anymore.
Stickles, marching boldly through his missteps, is still a brilliant writer and his broken snarl remains a perfect match for the abrasive music he unleashes. The mad apocalyptic prophet he at times presents himself as, echoing the robe-tearing lamenters of the Old Testament, appears again on “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus,” bemoaning while backed by bouncy power chords, “one good kid smashed to splinters, another wicked one crowned king” and a youth spent “yelling at rivers that refused to flood with angry tears.” The juxtaposition between Stickles’ bitter angst and his joyous riff-spitting craftsmanship, disjointed in theory, somehow never feels contradictory.
It cannot be underemphasized how buoyant (in the British seventies punk sense) this take on the American teenage wasteland is, in spite of its dour lyrics. Titus Andronicus continue to generate sick-hearted pop music boasting addictive hooks energetic enough for even the toughest workout regimen. Local Business, more than any Titus Andronicus release thus far, nostalgically recalls a pre-Pro Tools rawness valuing exuberance over slickness, charging forth with uninhibited vigor. It may not be as cohesive or mesmerizing as Titus Andronicus or The Monitor but it is wonderfully wild if not intentionally directionless.
Stickles begins Local Business with the promising plunge into the philosophical of “Ecce Homo” and ends his freefall on “Tried to Quit Smoking” by diving into his own sheets, attempting to conquer his dissatisfaction by screwing it away. This finale may be a fair metaphor for the spirit of the entire album. With Local Business, Titus Andronicus sets out to do battle with life itself but only ends up fooling around.