Titus Andronicus - The Will to Live Music Album Reviews

Titus Andronicus - The Will to Live Music Album Reviews
The New Jersey band’s seventh album is a hero’s journey powered by indomitable lifeforce and spirited, classic rock-inspired songwriting. It’s a rollicking good time and their best record in years.

The Will to Live, the seventh album by New Jersey rock group Titus Andronicus, is now the second Titus Andronicus record you’ll play to get your friends into Titus Andronicus. It’s about time. ’Til now, neophytes had nowhere to go but The Monitor, the band’s 2010 masterpiece, a rock opera about the Civil War as rewarding as it is challenging. (Press play on opener “A More Perfect Union,” and you’ll hear nearly a full minute of Abraham Lincoln before you hear a guitar or a drum.) The band has since veered from excess—2015’s 29-track-long The Most Lamentable Tragedy—to economy—2019’s An Obelisk, which didn’t clear 40 minutes. The Will to Live manages a balance between these poles. It is an easy, thoroughly enjoyable sell, abounding in the band’s signature blend of grit and gratitude.

Opening track “My Mother Is Going to Kill Me” welcomes listeners new and old with a sound collage: the peaceful noises of nighttime give way to wailing cats, then sirens, and then ringing riffs, galloping drums. It’s a nourishing slab of hard-rock beef. Stickles says he was shooting for Lou Reed; his friends hear Alice Cooper. A little later, Stickles introduces his cast: “Single mother/Deadbeat dad/Bastard baby/Boy gone bad.” The album’s narrator, he stresses, is not himself. Repeated references to a “mother”—as in Nature—and “father”—as in “God”—ground the record’s weighty existential themes in nuclear family relationships. Lead single “(I’m) Screwed” lands like a lightning bolt, speeding through the language of war, famine, and pestilence before landing on a more mundane adolescent sneer—“Dad… Are you gonna turn the screws on me?”—at the chorus.

These choruses, by the way, are the best Stickles has ever written. “All Through the Night” is a spirited call-and-response cri de coeur for a lads’ night out; “Baby Crazy” pairs mile-a-minute verses with an irresistible hook (“Blame it on the mama/Blame it on the papa”) that sounds like the Stones at their danciest. Straightforward pop structure has never been a Titus Andronicus hallmark. By and large, the band’s calling card is sprawl. (There are exceptions: the gorgeous Pogues tribute “Come On, Siobhán”; the E Street Band swagger of “Fatal Flaw.”) By embracing the traditional verse-chorus limitations of classic rock, Stickles distills this album’s weighty subject matter into hit after potent hit. A record deeply concerned with death becomes a rollicking good time.

Two songs, “An Anomaly” and “Bridge and Tunnel,” hit the seven-minute mark and weave through thickets of Biblical imagery and moral philosophy. The latter is a duet with Josée Caron, of the Canadian indie duo Partner, in the role of gloomy Celtic maiden. On these longer tracks, Titus Andronicus confront the destruction of nature and the responsibility of humanity to slow or stop this ruination. The anomaly of “An Anomaly” turns out to be man himself—hardly the first animal to kill and eat, but the only one with the devil in him, and the only one with the capacity to boil the seas and punch holes in the atmosphere. “If you wanna reach the promised land,” sings Stickles, “you’re gonna have to drop your contraband”—but who wants to give up luxury, privilege, comfort? “Goddamn!” he howls, miserable, furious. Caron enters on the electric guitar, parting the song with a searing solo.

During the making of this record, Stickles’ cousin, close friend, and occasional bandmate Matt “Money” Miller died suddenly. “He was my best buddy the whole time he was alive,” said Stickles, in a recent interview, “a really important guy to me, a part of me.” The two had known one another all their lives; that’s Miller and Stickles as kids on the cover of A Productive Cough. Stickles wrote several songs on The Will to Live in the wake of Miller’s death, including “Give Me Grief,” the record’s strongest moment. It’s a little like the “more life” monologue from Angels in America, if set to song: a rejection of suicide in favor of life, more life. But where Prior Walter spoke of life’s ugliness, Stickles’ narrator enumerates small pleasures: “A caring family, sympathy/Groceries for the whole week.” Friends, he sings, “to get me clean” and God, no longer a wholly malevolent presence, “to give me grief.” It’s a sweetly powerful statement, and a fitting tribute.

By the record’s end, the torment of the first and second acts gives way fully to hard-won serenity. Closer “69 Stones” first appeared on 2016’s live album S+@dium Rock; it receives new context and strength here, on the heels of the narrator’s arduous journey. The loping country sensibility has been pared back—there’s still harmonica, but less of it—and Stickles’ vocal is more contemplative, restrained. “It makes its blessed home,” he sings, as his bandmates enter, harmonize, “wherever teeth rip flesh from bone.” A destructive force, yes, but a vital one.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Titus Andronicus - The Will to Live Music Album Reviews Titus Andronicus - The Will to Live Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 12, 2022 Rating: 5


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