“A Productive Cough” by Titus Andronicus album review.
Titus Andronicus – A band named after a play of William Shakespeare’s set during the Roman empire being his most graphically violent play of all time.
Indeed, a fitting name when you consider the hopelessness surrounding the Nietzschean philosophies which inspire most of the band’s writing, but more particularly the gratingly whiny and gratuitously groan-filled vocals which one can only hope is an intentionally artistic choice.
In short, they’re basically Nirvana twenty years behind their time except four times as hard to listen to (in saying that, I strongly respect them as a band, they’re just an ‘acquired taste’).
Their fifth studio album, ‘A productive cough’ doesn’t stray from opening the album with what can be described as a regular, not-so-productive cough— that lasts over eight minutes and is stuffed with more words than a teenage girl’s love letter to Ryan Gosling.
That’s 456 words of moaning in the form of a single-verse endless rant, that, while an excellently written piece about the darker realities of conditions in New York, finds itself beleaguered by same simple-chorded coarse guitar and stiff sounding piano. As “Noise erupts from the speakers” and “they scream from the bleachers”, you may feel like you’re “breathing in poison” with leaves you with your “chest heaving.”
Things get far more listenable though from here as the frenetically fun and obnoxious and ‘real talk’ simply and cynically sums up life’s difficulties with an almost nursery rhyme-like lyrical style and campfire song tempo (fused with plenty of whimsical trumpets and saxophones)
Just imagine a kindergarten teacher with an acoustic guitar singing to her sixty-month old students, “if the weather’s as bad as the weather man says, we’re in for a real mean storm!” four times, except with the not-so-subtle subtext that, “If this is the shit that we’re to be dealing with then we made a real bad deal.”
The next track, above the Bodega (Local Business), keeping in the spirit of the previous track is all about the ‘obvious’ response to such constant hardships; buying drugs, smoking and drinking beer and keeping it a secret from your parents. Not much more need be said there.
The fourth and middle track of the album, ‘crass tattoo’ is a relief to the ears, as a welcome, softer feminine voice takes the stage in a simple ballad about activism expressed through a tattoo. As you listen you can feel the metaphorical fresh air, especially with a duration of just 4:21.
Only four minutes? Too short!
*Enter Stage Left raucous and bombastic nine minute Bob Dylan song cover*
The swift softness of the previous song immediately melts away like a Zooper Dooper on the sun’s surface and listeners are treated to quite an emphatic rendition of (I’m) like a rolling stone infused with harmonicas, aggressive piano, shrill choral vocals and of course the screaming which actually is quite fitting in this case. As the song reaches a powerful and organ-filled energetic climax, the tempo lifts and the intensity morphs into an incredible whirlwind of reverberating righteousness that makes it the best song of the album.
This is followed by the most instrumentally aggressive and hard-rocking offering, ‘home alone’, which unlike the opening track has only 14 different words and a total of 37. “Nobody’s home, I’m home alone” is the title track, thesis statement and summary of the whole damn song, but it’s punchy 4/4 time signature and crunchy-like-a-Cadbury-crunchy progression makes you forget how long it is.
The albums ends with the less-than-stellar but still satisfying ‘Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco)’, the last of strange song titles with brackets in them. In a slower style and pace that listeners are finally accustomed to having endured the whole album with a dark, existential finale transitioning from a literal train journey to how they represent “the infinite black of the path after dark as shadows of the past pass unnoticed.”
Sounds macabre? Well it really is, and that sums up the band rather well.
Overall, it’s far from Titus’ best offering, but even with the aforementioned elements that are hard to stomach it’s still much easier to listen to than previous outings. I’d strongly recommend listening to this if you’re in a mood where you despise everything. That said, there’s enough substance here to make it an enjoyable listen, just as long as you’re prepared for it.
Score: 3.5/5 deplorable groans.