Even before releasing their titanic, 29 track, 93 minute rock opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, New Jersey punk outfit Titus Andronicus were never ones to shy away from ludicrous ambition. Consider their 2008 record The Monitor, which sought to explore the complexities of singer Patrick Stickles’ struggles with bipolar disorder against the backdrop of the American Civil War. That album’s follow up, 2010’s Local Business, dialed down the ambition in service of creating a more grounded record, but here on TMLT, that mentality is thrown out the window entirely, replaced instead by operatic aspirations and bombastic ridiculousness. I mean, dude, this album has two ten minute tracks that are essentially presented like the cover of Lethal Weapon: back to back.
Listening to the entirety of TMLT from front to back, is a bit of a grind. A good handful of its 29 tracks are legitimate, fully featured songs. Tracks like “Lonely Boy,” “My. E. Mann” and “Fatal Flaw” are nice and digestible rock tunes, totally accessible to both existing Titus Andronicus fans and newcomers alike. Some listeners may be bothered by Patrick Stickles’ growly vocal delivery or the band’s affinity for a certain amount of instrumental harshness, but they bring legitimate heart and enthusiasm into everything they record.
Some of that enthusiasm seems to be a little misplaced on this album. There are equally as many tracks that come off as nothing more than filler. One of them is an intermission of total silence that lasts for over a minute. Additionally, teeny-tiny tracks like “Look Alive,” and “Lookalike,” clock in at just under forty seconds and don’t offer nearly enough to stand on their own. They’re energetic and intense, but ultimately these and a number of other tracks serve as stepping stones in the album’s relatively sparse “storyline” about the life of a manic depressive. Or maybe they’re just there to pad out the album’s length. It is for this reason that, when taken piecemeal -- track by track -- The Most Lamentable Tragedy sort of falls apart. There are as many great, full length tracks as there are forty five second duds.
But listening track by track is not necessarily the correct way to experience this record. Each of Titus Andronicus’ albums thus far have been inherently cohesive experiences, filled with lyrical callbacks and tightly interwoven tracks. TLMLT is no different. When you submit yourself to the often comic grandiosity of this record in its entirety,the result is a cathartic and exciting experience. The smaller, less eventful tracks serve to break up the action and lead the way toward the massive, ten minute punk explosions like “(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID.”
Depending on your preferred method of music listening, your tolerance for a certain amount of vocal and instrumental harshness, and whether or not you have ninety minutes in your life for an album like this will vastly alter your enjoyment of this record. A patient and ambitious album that requires patience and ambition of its listeners, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is an album that is worth the effort.