It has become commonplace to describe any band more than a decade old and with a few albums under their belts as “influential”, as though it were a badge of honour. But surely influential is just another way of saying “easy to copy”.
Wouldn’t a truly great, original band have their own sound, one that is so, to use another phrase common among rock writers, “sui generis” that it can come from them and them alone? Well, today’s new band, Titus Andronicus, have punched a great big hole in that theory by readily demonstrating the influence on them of a group one might have imagined were incontrovertibly sui generis: the Pogues.
The band, who formed in the spring of 2005 and take their name from a Shakespearean tragedy, might come from New Jersey but they have that ramshackle, close-to-collapse, London Irish charm, and it’s hard to tell how many musicians there are in the band, so sloppily do they play; guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, horns and harmonica all running into and all over each other with inebriated abandon.
Hailing from Glen Rock, New Jersey, and featuring Andrew Cedermark (guitar, keyboard, vocals), Ian Graetzer (bass), Eric Harm (drums), Ian O’Neil (guitar, vocals), Patrick Stickles (vocals, guitar, keyboard, harmonica).
As for their frontman, he has a tendency to gabble and garble his words, like a mad drunk who can barely form an intelligible sentence but does so fast, and as a consequence almost dares the listener to assume he’s a true urchin-poet, an approach to singing previously believed to be the sole preserve of Shane MacGowan.
Sorry, MacGowan through a megaphone. He sounds like Shane fronting The Strokes, because he appears throughout Titus Andronicus’ debut album The Airing of Grievances to be using one of those devices that Julian Casablancas employs to make him sound permanently like a renegade cop shouting at bank robbers during a siege. And Titus sound like a Pogues re-energised by the 21st-century boot-up-rock’s-arse provided by the Strokes. But to be fair, not just the Pogues. They also recall those other last-gang-in-town types the Clash, with a hint of Bruce Springsteen at his most overblown and Spectoresque, though obviously, this being an indie band, it’s a tinny, hissy, cheap’n’DIY version of Springsteen/Spector.
And you’re going to love it, if indeed you fell for the myth of the blue-collar male, all beer and loathing, as purveyed by everyone from the Boss to Paul Westerberg to the Hold Steady. And if you’re into those bands whose couldn’t-care aesthetic is designed – yes, designed; this is as artful a pose as, well, anything – to convey immediacy and, most crucially, authenticity. Oh, and if you can get past the comically hoarse vocals and wilfully (skilfully?) inept playing. There’s a highly literate band here – track titles include Albert Camus and Upon Viewing Bruegel’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus – and if you’re prepared to accept the context, the references to booze and fags and “fuck everything, fuck me” nihilism-as-lifestyle-option, then meet your new favourite band.
The buzz: “There’s emo in the tortured lyrics and E Street Band in the arrangements.”
The truth: They’ll get a cult (critical) following for sure, but wider success will likely be hampered by their faux amateurism.
Most likely to: Get pissed, destroy.
Least likely to: Take a holiday in the sun – it’ll ruin their “we-work-in-factories-all-day” image.
What to buy: The Airing of Grievances is released by Merok/XL on 2 February.