Titus Andronicus have maintained the position of "band most likely to sabotage themselves" since 2010's break-through album The Monitor thrust them a little further into the limelight than perhaps vocalist Patrick Stickles would claim to like. The Monitor was an album that used the American Civil War as a lens through to tell a series of autobiographical vignettes and already felt like the most overblown form of punk you could possibly imagine.
Having returned to a more stripped down sound on third-album Local Business, on follow-up The Most Lamentable Tragedy Titus Andronicus appear to be smashing down to looming heights of The Monitor by going an order of magnitude bigger. Their fourth studio album is therefore a sprawling five-act rock opera consisting of 29-tracks across 93-minutes. A twisted fictional concept album of sorts, TMLT tells the story of a protagonist in deep despair who meets his doppelgänger, visually identical but his opposite in terms of disposition. This encounter pitches them in to a revelatory journey.
All of which will be almost impossible to discern for those that are only half paying attention... And that is the thing with Stickles' ambition - it appears to be applied to make casual enjoyment as challenging as possible. TMLT is packed with ramshackle bar-band moments, references to previous work and killer tunes recalling Thin Lizzy and Springsteen at turns - just don't expect to uncover all of of its gems without wading through a heavily layered and complex album.
The individual moments are glorious. I Lost My Mind, across two distinct versions that book-end a short palindrome-like section, sounds like Meat Loaf and the boss delivering Bat out of Born to Run - rambunctious, epic urgent and nihilistic. Come On, Siobhán is a damn-near optimistic love song, complete with (heart-tugging) strings from Owen Pallet (who arranged the strings across the whole album). It it immediately followed by a switchblade cover of the Pogues' A Pair of Brown Eyes and together both feel like TMLT's most honest moments.
Lead single Dimed Out lives up to its title and manages to be the most maxed out moment here - a beer-swilled, obnoxious and vomit-encrusted party record that kicks down your front door, wakes up your neighbours, raids your drinks cabinet and leaves shortly after punching out a testy 'fuck you' to your boss on your now-stolen iPhone.
Yet all these great moments come obscured beneath the weight of everything The Most Lamentable Tragedy tries to be. When your previous stand-out album utilises the American civil war as a central mechanic there really only is one way to go. Nine-minute epics (A More Perfect Union), silent interludes, confusing song naming methods and complex narratives all play their part in making TMLT a little harder to unpick for all but the hardcore. You can’t help but wonder if that is rather the point...
The Most Lamentable Tragedy is out now on Merge Records, available on iTunes [affiliate link].