New Jersey garage punkers Titus Andronicus made a great leap in ambition and actualization during the two years between their nihilistic 2008 debut and their brilliant sophomore effort, The Monitor (the latter was, after all, a Civil War–themed concept record). With Local Business, they’ve dialed back the lofty ideas and extensive reading lists, drawing instead on an approach that evokes the anthemic irony of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.
Indeed, the songs seem generally more straightforward—“Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” is a Beatles-in-Hamburg blast of amphetamine pop, the lyrics of which are simply “I’m goin’ insane” repeated over and over—but bandleader Patrick Stickles embeds a complex mix of biting humour and philosophical despair at every turn. Case in point: Stickles’s hyper-personal account of being afflicted with selective eating disorder (it’s an actual medical thing), delivered via a raucous number with a catchy chorus that begins with, “My eating disorder…” and ends with a lengthy coda featuring more guitarmonies than Def Leppard’s “Bringing on the Heartbreak.” (As if to underline the black humour, the song is preceded by a 71-second banger called “Food Fight”).
Despite its many moments of genius songcraft (“Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter”), Local Business occasionally takes the joke too far: As catchy as it may be, the ’70s goof “(I Am the) Electric Man” is hardly a song for the ages. One thing is clear: Titus Andronicus have no difficulty cranking out punk-rock perfection, regardless of whether they’re overthinking or underachieving.
Playlist picks “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter,” “Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO),” “Ecce Homo”