Titus Andronicus, the now famous New Jersey punk band, hit it off after their release of The Monitor, back in 2010. They return yet again with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, released celebrating their 10 year anniversary, and lead singer, Patrick Stickles’ 30th Birthday.
A concept record about Stickles’ struggles with manic depression, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a punk rock opera consisting of five acts, a double disc record spanning 29 tracks, and an hour and thirty-two minutes of music. Each act represents a different stage of the five stages of emotional struggle theorized by the Kübler-Ross model – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The story seems to follow Patrick Stickles, or “the main narrator,” as he is “visited by a doppelganger and goes through considerable life experiences and dream sequences, all acting as a metaphor for manic depression”.
The most interesting thing about The Most Lamentable Tragedy to me is the juxtaposition of lively punk-rock music with the lyrical themes of manic depression. It’s not usual to hear glockenspiel, upbeat bouncing tempo’s, 60’s style doo-woop background vocals, and Owen Palett on violin & viola, when the subject matter is as intense as it is, but that’s what occurs a countless number of times here, like on “Come On, Siobhán.” Stickles is also clearly a history buff when it comes to rock records and anthems, pulling out all of the clichés and riffs unique to the genre.
Joe Coscarelli of the New York Times said on the New York Times Podcast, Popcast, that critics would say of The Most Lamentable Tragedy that, “it’s a fine record, they say it’s a rock opera, doesn’t really matter what it’s about, you can’t understand the lyrics anyway,” but I don’t feel like I’m one to take that approach. Yes, it’s a punk rock opera based concept album on manic depression, but while the lyrics push that theme, the music is more lively and doesn’t carry that same weight. There’s something about the way that the story is of a past event, and that Patrick Stickles is using The Most Lamentable Tragedy to re-tell from present day perspective rather than write the story as if it’s happening to him as he tells it. I think if The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a story about personal and emotional change, then it seems right for the sound of the album to be more positive than the lyrics.
A bit long, though given the band’s name, it’s not unusual to appear Shakepearean. “Stable Boy,” “was recorded with the same cassette recorder used for ‘Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ’, the first song off their first record,” explains Jeremy Gordon of Pitchfork. He goes on to suggest Stickles had done so to suggest “bookends to the Titus Andronicus project.” Where Stickles and the band go next is up to them, with The Most Lamentable Tragedy seeming like a decent ending – even containing a bit of a cliff-hanger, with last track “A Moral,” ending in an inhale without the exhale. “They could go anywhere from here,” continues Gordon, or “at the very least, they can stop writing songs titled ‘No Future.'”