In 2008, New Jersey punk rockers Titus Andronicus, fronted by Patrick Stickles, released their debut LP The Airing of Grievances to moderate fanfare. Tucked away amongst the lyrics of Stickles’ collection of angry, angst-ridden anthems is a prophetic line that “[he] will write [his] masterpiece some other day.” Two years later, with the release of their sophomore record The Monitor, that sentiment has arguably been fulfilled.
The Monitor, referencing the famous Union ironclad that clashed with the C.S.S. Virginia at the Hampton Roads, is a concept album loosely associated with the American Civil War. This idea is reinforced sonically by the marriage of battle hymns with melodic punk rock in “A More Perfect Union”, rousing military drum beats in “Richard II”, and spoken word recordings of quotes by Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, and confederate president Jefferson Davis scattered throughout the tracks.
The central tenet of the record, however, is more accurately a manifesto of Patrick Stickles’ struggle with manic depression, anger issues, and crippling neuroticism. Although it is never actually clear who the enemy is in Stickles’ metaphorical civil war, themes of ennui, social anxiety, alcohol abuse, and difficulties being in the public spotlight emerge prominently. Amidst these brutally vulnerable and vulgar lyrics, the message is at times triumphant (“I’ve been called out, cuckolded, castrated but I survived/ I am covered in urine and excrement but I’m alive/ And there’s a white flag, in my pocket never to be unfurled . . .”, A Pot in Which To Piss), and in other instances resigned (“It’s still us against them, it’s still us against them/ And they’re winning, they’re winning!”, Four Score and Seven). “The Battle of Hampton Roads”, which can be described as a nervous breakdown composed into a sprawling fourteen minute track, serves as a dramatic closer to the album, featuring a solemn bagpipe interlude and a final, rallying guitar solo.
Criticisms of the The Monitor accuse Titus Andronicus of unapologetically borrowing musical & lyrical ideas from punk forerunners such as the Pogues and the Hold Steady, as well as fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, and perhaps those arguments lend themselves to a wider discussion on the roles of influences in songwriting. Regardless, what can hopefully be agreed on is that The Monitor is a resounding, cathartic anthem for any metaphorical internal struggle.
Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union
Titus Andronicus – Four Score and Seven