Titus Andronicus – ‘A Productive Cough’

By Renette van der Merwe

Titus Andronicus are back with their latest, ‘A Productive Cough’, having made an obvious departure from the punk rock anthems of 2015’s ‘Most Lamentable Tragedy’ to take a more soulful approach for their second album on Merge Records.

Fear not, it’s still the same worn voice of singer songwriter, Patrick Stickles, only wrapped in different packaging. He explains that “the last record was very much a culmination of all that had come before—closing, or really slamming, a lot of doors, and to move forward, I had to look for a new door to walk through, only to find a window which had been cracked open all along. [A Productive Cough] is the gentle breeze which had been wafting through, which I can breathe in fully at last.”

It is gentler indeed and longtime Titus fans may be disappointed by the change in sound, but there is still a strong artistic quality to appreciate. The album kicks off with a crescendoing eight-minute verse filled with emotive lyrics, showcasing the natural storytelling of Stickles’ prolific songwriting. Despite the uplifting melody, ‘Number One (In New York)’ has a dark undercurrent which carries into the second track on the album, ‘Real Talk’.

The song feels like their way of tackling the current American climate, but without letting the heaviness of the subject dictate the song. In fact, it has a sort of hokey pokeyish quality to it, which does a good job of evoking your inner child and giving you an itch to get up and dance. Especially with the bluesy guitar and elements of jazz adding another dimension to the song.

‘Above The Bodega (Local Business)’ best highlights the soulful direction they’ve taken with a Motown groove. Think of Motown favourites like The Temptations and Marvin Gaye and the smooth melodies their equally smooth voices sang and Stickles’ gruff voice creates an interesting juxtaposition that makes the song all the more striking. It’s the reimagining of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, however, that truly shines. Written as if almost in response to Dylan’s ‘95 hit, ‘(I’m) Like A Rolling Stone’ is a self-reflective testimony from Stickles to a known and favourite tune. At times tongue in cheek, but at its core, this “cover” remains a confessional.

The album, only seven songs strong, yet 45 minutes long, closes with ‘Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco)’. As the New Jersey band wrapped the fifth addition to their discography, they may have left their punk roots to nurture something altogether different, but it reflects a maturity and marks the evolution of a sound that will likely continue to shapeshift in each of their future endeavours.

RENETTE VAN DER MERWE

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