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Titus Andronicus: Civil War Punk Rock

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Titus Andronicus: Civil War Punk Rock

Titus Andronicus: Civil War Punk Rock

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The punk band Titus Andronicus draws inspiration from sources as diverse as Shakespeare and "Seinfeld." They recently put out their second CD, called "The Monitor."

Our critic Robert Christgau says it's an ambitious album, a punk cocktail of loud guitar and history lesson.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: The leader of Titus Andronicus, Patrick Stickles, isn't one of those cartoon punks who spell stupid with two O's. No short, snappy songs for this band.

On their debut album, his three-chord thrash sprawled, ending with three seven-minute songs. So it's not too much of a surprise that the follow-up,called "The Monitor," mixes images of youthful angst with images of the Civil War. Or is it? Check out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" quotes in this selection.

(Soundbite of song, "Richard II")

Mr. PATRICK STICKLES (Lead Singer, Titus Andronicus): (Singing) And we can no longer afford waiting for someone to lift this terrible swift sword. In our basements, we all look so bored. We've never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. There will be parties...

CHRISTGAU: After college, Stickles left suburban Glen Rock, New Jersey, to join a girlfriend in Boston. There, he absorbed the Ken Burns "Civil War" documentary and did a lot of related reading as his love life fell apart. Such was the genesis of "The Monitor."

Oddly, however, the album doesn't reference either of these inspirations all that much. Instead, historical pain and personal pain combine to inspire alternately furious and dejected meditations on the moral confusion of Stickles' generational cohort - which has, as you just heard, never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

One song begins with a spoken epigraph from a young Abraham Lincoln bemoaning one of the brutal depressions that plagued his heroic life, and builds to the tale of a young man bemoaning his dependence on prescription meds.

(Soundbite of song, "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future")

Mr. STICKLES: (Singing) And I can do nothing without his permission. That wasn't part of the plan. So now at Rock Ridge Pharmacy, I will be waiting for my man. But there is another down in the dungeon who never gave up the fight. And he'll be forever screaming, sometimes I hear him say on a quiet night. He says, you will always be a loser. You will always be a loser.

CHRISTGAU: Do you hate that creep whining, you will always be a loser, at the end? Me, too, especially after he's mewled on for 40 seconds. Only then, those same words transmute into a shouted battle cry that lasts another minute and a half.

(Soundbite of song, "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future")

Mr. STICKLES: (Singing) You will always be a loser. You will always be a loser. You will always...

CHRISTGAU: Stickles name-checks Bruce Springsteen on a 14-minute finale called "The Battle of Hampton Roads" that devotes all of 27 seconds to the Monitor and the Merrimack - which, in case you've forgotten, are the ironclad ships that fought the Battle of Hampton Roads to a draw. And if only because Stickles is from Jersey, comparisons to the Boss are inevitable.

But I think of him as a cross between the Replacements' Paul Westerberg and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst - the tuneful anger of one, the desperate lyricism of the other. Because his basic method is to contrast his slow, pained side with his speedy, defiant side, he's hard to excerpt. So let's go out on an anthem called "Titus Andronicus Forever," and recognize how passionately Patrick Stickles tries to defeat negative undertow with the power of will and a fast guitar music.

(Soundbite of song, "Titus Andronicus Forever")

Mr. STICKLES: (Singing) The enemy is everywhere. The enemy is everywhere. The enemy is everywhere. The enemy is everywhere.

BLOCK: The new album from Titus Andronicus is called "The Monitor," reviewed for us by Robert Christgau.

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