To say I wasn’t really looking forward to Titus Andronicus’ new album wouldn’t be right. I really wanted to hear it, but I also planned to dislike it. In the interview that was released with “Number One (In New York),” Patrick Stickles declared that A Productive Cough would have no “punk bangers.” Those were my favorite Titus songs, and now Stickles wanted to get rid of them? These fears evaporated upon listening to “Number One.” A Productive Cough doesn’t have the same sort of gritty, shout-along songs like “Dimed Out” or “A More Perfect Union,” but the songs aren’t any less punk bangers.
As a whole, A Productive Cough serves as a cool down from The Most Lamentable Tragedy. While Stickles’ lyrics do touch on existential conundrums (“Number One”) or intense sonder (“Above the Bodega”), many of the songs tend to embrace more traditional choruses. For example, look at the swinging repetitive lyricism of “Real Talk” or the refrain “I can’t keep a secret from the guy who works downstairs” in “Above the Bodega.” When Stickles dives into elements of his personal life, it does show some of the depressive anxiety (“Mass Transit Madness”) or retention of values (“Crass Tattoo”) associated with punk. The most memorable parts are often the parts that see Stickles rise above some anxiety like the end of “Mass Transit Madness” or shouting “I confess it to a microphone” in “Number One.”
What A Productive Cough does best is embrace the edgiest ends of classic rock that Titus Andronicus have always flirted with. Whether it’s the brutal cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” or the Billy Joel influence on “Number One” or “Crass Tattoo,” Stickles really stretches his reach here, and it is a lively record. Even in more subdued songs, plenty of the +@ personality comes through. “Real Talk” and “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” see Stickles leaning more into proto and pseudo-punk influences like The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. “Home Alone” has all the larger than life bounce of great cock-rock. Even though these aren’t the mosh pit inducing anthems Titus Andronicus have set themselves up for, they still have the same communal sense that those bangers had. Choruses and harmonies are often disguised as gang-vocals and Stickles still tears his vocal chords into screaming enough. It really makes an effort to melt the line between folk music and punk rock.
Following The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus Andronicus earned the right to play this album safe. Like Dropkick Murphys’ Going Out In Style, The Most Lamentable Tragedy marked a massively ambitious album for the band. Unlike the Dropkicks, Titus opted for something, arguably more ambitious. It’s a forty-seven minute foray into mostly uncharted territory. A Productive Cough steps away from the laurels that have made Titus Andronicus such an exciting, successful band, and the risk is rewarded. It’s like +@’s version of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” It may not be for every fan, but the ones who can take a challenge will definitely find it enjoyable.