The Jersey punk band’s fifth album employs their infrequently used weapon: ballistic folk with traditional arrangements.
For over a decade, Patrick Stickles has been this generation’s punk rock Sisyphus – forever embroiled in the struggle, forever putting up a fight, usually bloody, bruised and beaten. Even when it appears, for a moment, that he might give in, he rises up swingin’. Titus Andronicus’s fifth album doesn’t change the battle plan, but employs more of the band’s infrequently used weapon, namely ballistic folk buoyed by a love of traditional arrangements. But there’s still an indomitable punk fury, and A Productive Cough is the most hopeful Titus Andronicus record yet.
Over twinkling, old-timey piano, Number One (In New York) takes up arms against the forces building America the apocalyptic, exploding with vitriol. Real Talk delivers the knockout to that set-up, with a rowdy protest song that is one of the best the genre’s produced in a while. Above The Bodega (Local Business) serves up equal parts wisdom and comic relief, as Stickles explains he can deceive everyone except the shop owner downstairs (“You can’t lie with your dollars,” he sneers). He sets a brutally honest lens on himself by turning all the pronouns from second to first person in a hurricane-force reimagining of Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone. And the straightforward Home Alone offers that sweet punk viciousness.
But, as mentioned before, hope is still the star of this record, and Crass Tattoo is its bright and shining heart. Stickles relinquishes vocal duties to Megg Farrell for a solemn but rousing folk turn. As she sings about the idealism and noble cause that the “sacred emblem” (the logo of the UK anarcho-punk band Crass) represents, the weight in her voice is enough to make any sellout hang their head in shame.
Titus Andronicus reminds us that to build a dream world, you can’t forget the dream.
Top track: Crass Tattoo
Titus Andronicus plays the Great Hall on March 13. See listing.
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