Titus Andronicus are one of America’s finest punk bands, but they don’t sound the part at all on their fifth album, A Productive Cough. The band’s frontman, Patrick Stickles, swore off any “punk bangers” on the album; instead, this is an album that’s full of drunken singalongs and ballads, some of which fall back on acoustic (or at least well-mannered) instrumentation. And to be honest…the results are a mixed bag. Sometimes you get the talking blues of “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” or the barreling charge of “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone”; other times you get songs that are pretty inert, failing to do anything interesting over the course of their (often very lengthy) runtime. Fans of Titus Andronicus’ punkier work, like The Monitor and Local Business, may be disappointed by this record. Play the favorites and leave the rest.
FCCs: 1, 2, 3
Favorites: 3, 5
1) “Number One (In New York)” (8:13) – FCC “s***,” “f***.” Lengthy piano intro, which starts to build in intensity after 1:45. The piano riff repeats until about the five-minute mark, when it seems to fall away completely and be replaced with triumphant guitars and a saxophone. Song gradually winds down over the last minute. Good for safe harbor.
2) “Real Talk” (7:15) – FCC “s***.” Titus Andronicus fashions themselves as a bar band, throwing in brass elements and singalong backing vocals. Swinging, swaggering drumbeat. The lyrics are a hilariously bleak rumination on how bad things can possibly get, between weather and war. Gets very loud in the last minute. This is a pretty great song to play in safe harbor.
3) “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” (4:46)* – FCC “g******.” If the Lord’s name isn’t an FCC, then play this one. It’s a peculiar, percussive kind of bluesy song that uses a lot of acoustic instrumentation and horns. Ends kind of abruptly.
4) “Crass Tattoo” (4:21) – The shortest song on the album is a relatively simple waltzing number. It’s not much more than a simple piano riff with kind of glossy production. For once, Stickles doesn’t sing in a guttural rasp; in fact, I’m not even sure it’s him singing.
5) “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone” (8:53)* – Stickles’ send-up of the classic Bob Dylan song is very faithful to the original, keeping the same pace and wild harmonica solos. However, Stickles adapts it for a first-person perspective and sings it like a constipated Mick Jagger, howling from the commode. (Stickles shouts out each member of the Rolling Stones by name at the end of the track.)
6) “Home Alone” (8:17) – A crunchy and plodding hard rock number with thundering drums and distorted guitar solos—and some of the most uninspired lyrics this band has ever put to tape. Skip it unless you need eight minutes of brainless riffing.
7) “Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco)” (4:59) – Another largely acoustic number with singalong backing vocals. Stickles does a cool lyrical trick where the last line of a verse gets tweaked a bit to become the first line of the next verse. But the song itself never really takes off.