Patrick Stickles has bold bones to pick. Endlessly moaning on 2010’s The Monitor in lament over the sediment of Civil War, the Titus Andronicus frontman now uses this most recent release to hone in on the micro-level conflicts that torment himself and his immediate surroundings. The brutality of truth and blunt cynicism that Local Business abides by is a testament to Stickles’s undying investment in calling attention to all things shitty, with a strained throat that throbs in agonizing helplessness.
Because desperation is nothing new to Titus, the album seeks refreshment in its riffing nods to previously unexplored staples of rock phenomena. Hence the shameless halftime breakdowns that undercut these pinchy guitar solos compliments of what sounds like Joe Satriani’s high school protege in “My Eating Disorder” and elsewhere. Fairly early on in the record, it becomes obvious that with Monitor tracks like “Titus Andronicus Forever” and “Theme From ‘Cheers’,” the bad news from New Jersey was only scratching the surface of how kitschy they’re willing to get.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the unrelentingly positive critical response met by The Monitor that convinced the band of their need to refuse expectations and wow with a new bag of tricks. Sadly, the sac is torn. Local Business simply can’t keep either the strictly regimented parades of ceaseless energetics that made The Monitor memorable, nor this newfound fascination with midlevel aesthetics of harmonic hygiene afloat. What’s offered is a respectably thought-out, but poorly orchestrated vision of where Stickles and the guys felt the need to go (call it the Kid A syndrome or arrested Beatles nostalgia). It’s really a task that should be reserved for bands that have solidified both their intentions and their means of stating them well enough to move carefully and craftily into new territory. Despite The Monitor’s hundred-star summer, taking on the challenge of making corny cool, was too lofty a task.
It’s this hodgepodging of rock approach that steals the desired uniformity and solid affective power that could have made Local Business great. These guys clearly know how to rock like it’s decades ago, but putting their power to use with tiring throwaways of repetitive gestures like “(I Am The) Electric Man” and “Tried To Quit Smoking” take the wreck-factor out of listening for fun. Closing with the “Smoking” somber, circa blues retakes as far back as the fifties, with the ridiculously punchy gimmicks of “Food Fight” not far behind, listeners are left with lacking in a dozen directions.
When Stickles actually gets the chance to calm his band’s frantic pick and choosing with the lyrics he’s made himself known for, there’s some amount of amicably unrelenting mopiness that attests to what there is to love about Titus Andronicus. As stubborn as one might expect from a dirty dude with some Bright Eyes in him, he asserts “Okay I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless, and there’s nothin’ in the universe with any kind of objective purpose.” This brand of flagrancy, especially for the first words on an opening track, is what’s endearing about Stickles and his Shakespeare-loving henchmen.
His kinship with listeners, passion for cynicism and attempted lit major lingo as backed by a rowdy yet unarguably capable crew, is the Titus Andronicus that needed to be more earnestly flushed out after The Monitor. With “Ecce Homo” as opener, and most notably “In A Small Body,” the record retains this young eagerness to say and play as much as a single rock song will allow. Elsewhere, there’s a lot left hanging behind the holler.
Still definitively in their spotlight, the band should have let the satisfying runoff from their 2010 sweetheart-maker do most of the talking for this bulky record. There’s a lot to be desired in terms of trusting where their ears lie and how to maintain character as a group floating between peoples’ punk and the scraps of indie rock. Local Business simply tries too hard to make a point about what these guys are capable of eclectically, without chomping at the bit toward any single grievance the way a guy with bulimia and plenty of eloquent self-awareness ought to. There’s some value in this record as a statement against the reverberant drowning of rock as we knew it, but for Titus Andronicus followers, Local Business is wrought with far too much tumultuous teasing.