Titus Andronicus Are Stadium Ready on 'The Will to Live'

BY Ian GormelyPublished Oct 18, 2022

Over 17 years and a half-dozen albums, Titus Andronicus have been, at various times, raucus, epic, overwhelming, relentless, uncompromising, Civil War cosplayers, DIY warriors, and "stadium rockers" (per their live album S+@dium Rock). But they've never made actual, capital letter Stadium Rock. Their Replacements-worship has always ensured that even when channeling their fellow garden-state hero Bruce Springsteen, the air quotes remained firmly in place. 

Until now, that is. 

The band's seventh album The Will To Live leverages all that's come before into a streamlined set of bangers that threatens to push Patrick Stickles career-long belief in rock and roll as a force for redemption out of the dingy clubs and into the realm of corporate-sponsored venues. 

In many ways it's the album Titus Andronicus (or +@ for short) could have made after the breakout underground success of The Monitor back in 2010 — trim the fat, up the fidelity, sweeten the hooks and ride the dad-rock wave to a very comfortable career. 

Instead Stickles and guitarist Liam Betson have spent the following decade taking +@ on as many sonic detours as they could find: the stripped down rawness of Local Business, the ambitious 29-track rock opera of The Most Lamentable Tragedy or the ballad-driven A Productive Cough. The cynic's read on this latest is that they've run out of road and finally circled the wagons. 

That ignores both Stickles' deeply held beliefs and the sheer vitality of the songs here. "Our poverty is their policy," he howls on "(I'm) Screwed," easily the catchiest rallying cry for a stronger social safety net. Its video finds the group — Stickles and Betson along with bassist R.J. Gordon and drummer Chris Wilson, who both joined in 2016 — performing on the back of a flatbed truck during the independence day parade in their hometown. Its message is clear: the music on The Will to Live isn't a crass attempt at levelling up. It's a Trojan horse to spread their message to the masses, even if they have to do it one small town at a time. 

To accomplish their goal, they enlisted Howard Bilerman, who helped Arcade Fire take their rough personal laments and blow them up into arena-sized rallying cries. Recorded at the producer's hotel2tango studio in Montreal, he and Stickles, who co-produces, don't so much sand down the bands rough edges as much as sharpen their focus. From the record's opening overture "My Mother Is Going to Kill Me" to the seven-minute good vs. evil battle "An Anomaly" and the rousing "We're Coming Back," the guitars ring out louder, the piano swings a little harder, the solos are more rippin' and the gang-vocals grander and more in tune. But the band have lost none of the piss and vinegar that's marked every stylistic diversion that came before. They're just taking those component parts to build one barnstorming monster of a record. 

Stickles constructs characters for his songs, but there's a lot of himself in their politics. Many of the ones he sketches here are feeling the walls closing in. On The Monitor, he interpolated one of Springsteen's most famous lines into one of his own, nihilistically screaming "Baby we were born to die." The Will to Live seems to be where Stickles' — or at least his characters' — fight or flight instinct kicks in. "The will to live won't leave me alone," he sings on the shuffling piano blues number "69 Stones." The rest of the record proves that they're going to fight like hell.
(Merge Records)

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