Titus Andronicus has been specializing in punk solutions since 2005, but an entirely different punk rock experience is in store for listeners Friday night at the Ridglea Room in Fort Worth.
At the beginning of the year, Titus Andronicus surprised fans with the announcement of a new album, A Productive Cough, and a new track, “Number One (In New York).” The New Jersey punk band had been quiet for more than a year, and its signature fast-paced, roaring assault had been simmered down to a slow, waltzing assault.
Lead singer Patrick Stickles still wails out his articulate screeds on politics, society and life in general, but the lightning guitars and thunderous drums have been replaced with a quiet storm of a piano, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone and a choir of background singers.
The band’s second single, “Above the Bodega (Local Business),” showed fans another side of Titus Andronicus’ new sound — elements of country music, soul and old-school R&B. The song’s title harks back to the band’s third album, Local Business, in which the band returned to the simpler sounds of its first album, The Airing of Grievances, after soaring to the colossal thematic heights of its Civil War-themed sophomore effort, The Monitor.
Just as Local Business allowed the band to explore softer approaches to the emotional depths of their lyrics, “Above the Bodega (Local Business),” shows the band exploring a danceable form of confessions — one that hides the discussion of loneliness behind rhythm, just as the lyricist hides his loneliness behind cigarettes and beer: “I can keep a secret from my mama, I can keep a secret from my pa/But I can't keep a secret from the guy at the store downstairs.”
By the time A Productive Cough, the band's first album of new material since the audio onslaught of 2015’s 90-minute punk rock opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, hit record stores last month, fans weren’t sure what to make of the new approach.
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The core of Titus Andronicus remains the same, from a new take on a Bob Dylan classic in “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone” to the sarcastic criticism of the media’s tendency to hyperbolize in “Real Talk.” These are still the growling, scathing tirades we’ve come to expect over the past 13 years.
The only difference is that now those hard pills to swallow are served up with a spoonful of musical sugar. If The Most Lamentable Tragedy was a punk rock opera, A Productive Cough is a punk rock symphony complete with strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion.
Rather than touring with a symphony of instruments and choristers, however, Stickles has stripped down the sound even further to a simple piano, guitar and microphone. This “acoustic” tour will see Stickles playing guitar alongside pianist Alex Molini to perform songs from across Titus Andronicus’ entire catalog.
Although some may miss the thrashing and crashing for which Titus Andronicus shows have been known over the past decade, it will be nice to see a more toned-down version of the band, with its deep lyrics at the front and the frenzy contained in the back.