I have become deeply enamoured of Titus Andronicus and their two albums The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor. These are savage, punky, Springsteen-esque and very funny. Musically they are located firmly in the low-fi/alt/indie shelves with huge drums and gross distortion as the default. Lyrically they don’t mind indulging the verbose, the elaborate and the baroque. Vocally Patrick Sickles has the ruthless whine of a nervous six year old with grown up fears. There’s a lot to like.
What I find compelling is the unrelenting rejectionism of pretty much everything they do, but it isn’t like a big anarchist NO! Quite the contrary, the condemnations of modernity, postmodernity, and feckless suburbanism are embraced, giggled at, and them bounced right back to the audience as heraldry for failure. What Titus Andronicus do is pastiche: it looks funny but is devoid of the backing humour.
Here’s Fredric Jameson on pastiche:
Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs: it is to parody what that other interesting and historically original modern thing, the practice of a kind of blank irony…
Titus Andronicus take on Jameson because they don’t stop with blank parody; they do a parody of pastiche. You want blankness? You want a blind statue? You want no conviction? Here it is! And so we get fantastic broad throated, beer barn-esque choruses like “your life is over! Your life is over! Your life is over! Your life is over! Your life is over! Your life is over.” It is almost Bon Jovi like in its singalong bliss.
When Patrick Sickles roars out “you will always be a loser!” over and over again it fills the void of pastiche, grabs back and subverts the dead languages of punk and Springsteen, among others. The subversion doesn’t really go anywhere, that’s not what they’re about, but it takes back those dead languages and declares that they were all fucked anyway.