Titus Andronicus’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy is an ambitious record. It’s a 29-song, 93-minute behemoth held together through impeccable pacing, creative composition and a seriousness for its vision and subject matter. “Punk Rock Opera” is a silly sounding phrase, but frontman Patrick Stickles has made a record that lends it a new respect.
Despite its intimidating overall length, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is approachable. Twenty five of the tracks clock in under 5 minutes. The second track is part four of the familiar “No Future” song cycle and gives fans a cathartic line — “I hate to be awake” — to shout over and over like they have with so many other Titus Andronicus songs.
This familiarity is the gateway to a smorgasbord of rock from hardcore (“Look Alive”) to bar room rock (“Fatal Flaw”) with a little 80s pop thrown in (“Come On, Siobhán”). Interlaced throughout are interludes, reprises, covers and scene changes. A variety of recording techniques are used (“Stable Boy” was recorded on a cassette recorder) and a wealth of instruments including strings and synth drones.
The variety prevents The Most Lamentable Tragedy from being exhausting. The is no deeper understanding necessary needed to enjoy; however, a close listening of the record is rewarded with a deepened appreciation for what’s been accomplished by Stickles and his crew.
The first 7 tracks introduce the record’s protagonist. From the moment he wakes up (“No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”) his depression and addiction — detailed further in “Stranded (On My Own)” — eat away at him. He further explains how the city feeds his neurosis (“Lonely Boy”) and how it has haunted him his whole life (“I Lost My Mind (+@)”). “I look alive, but I’m dead inside,” Stickles screams on “Look Alive” before the second act starts.
“Lookalike” introduces a man that looks exactly like the main character, but acts completely different. Titus Andronicus takes on his point of view for a few songs to describe how this man has fought back against societal forces (“Fired Up”) and how he’s lived life to its fullest (“Dimed Out”). Meeting this man throws the protagonist into a dream-like flashback (“More Perfect Union,” harkening back to The Monitor’s “A More Perfect Union”) and leads into the third act where he sleeps with a woman named Siobhán (“(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID”).
He thinks he can control his depression (“Funny Feeling”) and convince his lover that it’s not a bad thing (“Fatal Flaw,” “Please,” “Come On, Siobhán”), but he succumbs (“I’m Going Insane (Finish Him” and “The Fall”) and has off his doppelgänger (“No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming”) before coming to peacefully rest for a moment (“Stable Boy”).
The triumph of The Most Lamentable Tragedy is not in the scope of the story, the way Stickles treats his own records like comic book canon through dense internal references, the detailed compositions, the chest-thumping anthems, or even the empathy it allows listeners to feel for someone with manic depressions.
The triumph is that it does all of those things at once. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is like a fireworks finale. Everything is going off at once. It’s chaotic, but all planned. Time slows down and when it ends, you hold your breath while your ears ring.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy is out now. Titus Andronicus will play the Cat's Cradle on September 14. Tickets are $10 via Ticketfly.