Raw Musical Ramblings
The supply of standard-lengthed albums and extended plays in the music world is constant and plentiful. Therefore, it is exciting and rare when an artist puts out content that tests the bounds and conventions of this formula. In 2015, Titus Andronicus did just this with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, a five-act rock opera. So where exactly does the indie rock band go from here? A Productive Cough is the group’s answer to this question.
While the cleverly named The Most Lamentable Tragedy spanned over 90 minutes, A Productive Cough offers a mere seven tracks. Although this fact alone makes it seem that the album simply pales in production value, Titus Andronicus offers up a complementary product to pair with the album: a documentary. This 60-minute film, also titled “A Productive Cough,” covers the ins and outs of the making of the album. Frontman, Patrick Stickles, recounts that, in a way, each album is a reaction to the previous. In this case, the band takes A Productive Cough in a new direction in order to have a more concise thematic and musical focus.
The opening track and lead single from the album is “Number One (from New York).” The over eight-minute tune features a stubborn piano melody and layers of other instruments and vocals being slowly piled on top throughout the song. The progression may be too slow though, as the song seems to drag. Although respectably bold to not follow the traditional song format, eight minutes may be overkill. The song feels like an extensive rant or the word vomit of a writer. Yet, Stickles’ lyrics showcase his raw emotions. He begins by musing about the world around him until the lyrics evolve into Stickles looking inside himself as he sings, “Declare myself president of the emptiness, say I’m Rembrandt of dancing on the precipice / Eleven years in and trying to stay relevant.” While not a total hit, the experimental track does appropriately set the tone for the rest of the album.
The fifth track, “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone” is a cover of the Bob Dylan classic that has been covered countless times since its original inception in 1965. Titus Andronicus puts their own spin on the classic by infusing it with some indie rock sound, extending its play-time and slightly editing some lyrics. However, these mix-ins cause the track to overstay its welcome as it continues for nine minutes. Elsewhere on the album, “Home Alone” is reminiscent of the band’s earlier punk-rock repertoire while “Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco’)” and “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” steer closer to indie-folk.
Titus Andronicus is undeniably shaking things up in the music world with each release. While their last big production was overflowing with creativity and spark, an extensive rock opera à la Shakespeare is not nearly as accessible as A Productive Cough. The album is a big change for the group as they experiment with a rougher around the edges sound and a raw folk vibe. With organic chanting of the lyrics in many of the tracks, the production of the album has an overall unpolished and natural feeling, akin to friends experimenting with their musical talents. While raw and genuine in its production and theatrical lyricism, some tracks seem to drone on too long without enough variation. But despite the change in pace and sound among the tracks, the album succeeds in capturing the band’s unrefined spirit, overall.