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Although I identified strongly with each, I didn't fully recognize the disparity between the happy and sad Patrick Stickles on Titus Andronicus's (hereafter +@) previous three albums. Being the dead art that it is, he approached punk rock with the full realization that he could fail miserably. As he explored this conclusion, his music got better. Although he exclaimed "You will always be a loser/And that's okay!" on 'No Future Part Three', he became a stronger and more powerful subject through this inescapable concession. If it was overly dramatic, it was buoyed by another The Monitor cut, 'Theme From Cheers', where Stickles and friends took solace in getting obscenely drunk with one another and timing reality out. On The Most Lamentable Tragedy's (hereafter TMLT) first few songs, his acceptance of potential failure has turned into acceptance of loneliness ('Lonely Boy'). He doesn't whine about being left alone, he demands it. The sad and happy have again become one.

This oneness is more complex than ever. After accepting his plight with glee, our hero's doppelganger appears in the compact 'Look Alike' to tell him that "looking on the bright side's alright." This mystery man shakes our hero from complacency and convinces him to explore his potential on 'Fired Up', where angelic rises in the group vocals elevate the performance before crashing back down on rhetoric about how "these Christians don't know what they're missing." Suddenly, our story is about more than what the characters have come to realize. It's about freedom. It's about coping with anxiety. It's about being unable to comply with the unfounded norms that have found their place solidified in American culture.

TMLT comes from a Patrick Stickles that was drained of his imagination in psychotherapy. As detailed in his interview with Marc Maron, he attempted to gain a more solid footing on his mental state; which resulted in the longest length of time between +@ releases. When Stickles rejected the "white man's drugs," his poetry spilled out even deeper than the motifs on The Monitor. This backstory adds depth to TMLT, yes, but it's essential to also consider the album's story arc as its own beast. If you can convince yourself of TMLT being a novel, a musical, or five EPs crammed into one record, the experience becomes more immersive and rich.

And what could be richer, as our hero spits in the face of his leaders, than the ode to excess of 'Dimed Out'. Our hero gushes out line after line, and his freedom from institution and religion cannot be contained: "I don't listen to parents or priests or principals/Inconsiderate of little individuals/As they ration out their miniscule residuals." On its own, it's one of the finest punk singles of the last several years. Within the context of TMLT and Stickles's life in New York, it's a centerpiece for his credo that couldn't have been contained in one song. As such, 'Fired Up' introduces the track, prepping the listener for onslaught. Since the story has taken us from loneliness to hope to massive excess, +@ deliver a nice breather by investing in the abstract story of 'More Perfect Union'. There's great patience that comes with this song's amorphous plays on orchestrated balladry, and it's no coincidence that our Monitor reprisal happens to be the most sprawling and diverse track; closing out TMLT's first act and clocking ten minutes in order to cram in a crescendo that foreshadows the depth of the three remaining sections.

So why continue the narrative after such a complete forty-five minutes? The story begins again with the spiritual 'Sun Salutation', where an angelic chorus contradicts the glut of 'Dimed Out'. This track's idea is also explored on "Auld Lang Syne," a type of Scottish song typically used to salute times past. These peaceful moments are interrupted by society and a schizophrenia which continues to pester our hero's proclaimed loner-status. On '(S)HE SAID/(S)HE SAID', these voices encourage him to eat, buy, and fuck his way toward happiness while another insists on combating the consumerist mantra. +@ play around with a strangely fluid, singular riff and thriftily performed it at different speeds and with different vocal deliveries. As it slows down to Black Sabbath territory, there's a howl before a chorus shouts "You didn't understand a single thing! He said!" It recalls the bombast and group energy of +@'s live shows. I can hear the hiss from the guitar amp, and there's a weak compression that also makes me smile about how they're still indelibly a punk rock band. 'Funny Feeling' picks up the pieces scattered by '(S)HE SAID' and replaces them over a riff that's melodically very different from anything in +@'s past. Like 'Sun Salutation' and 'More Perfect Union', the track is a respite from TMLT's forceful attitude as the band harnesses the fire inside; even as it unleashes a beast that craves further substance abuse on 'Fatal Flaw'. I had always imagined Stickles's coup de grace as a manifestation of American failure. It's interesting to hear him proclaim a different dependency over pianos, hand claps, and major key tones that drive TMLT's best group vocals: "Made it to the drug deal right on time! I got what I came to find! Let me show you my fatal flaw!" Springsteen would approve.

But, the buzz fades, and emptiness returns to the scene on 'Please' and 'Come On Siobhan'. It's not all sad. The lyrics have hope despite their admissions: "I'm likely a lot like those other guys/C'mon c'mon Siobhan/Want you to love me." We wonder if love can save our hero. However, there's too much on his mind as a piano dirge takes us to the final section of the album. With Shakespearean flare, we've become infatuated with our flawed protagonist, and it's heartbreaking to hear about his inevitable mental return to where he first lost his mind. The hard truths of the past haven't finished with Stickles yet. 'Into the Void (Filler)' details tangible action taken by the protagonist, who now claims yet another persona named 'The Reagan Hunter'. Love fades and vengeance becomes the goal since he can't "genuflect before a genocidal government." The vengeful beast has a soft spot for nature and animals, and can't abide their destruction. "I have seen the raping of the mother/now hear the avenging thunder!"

Continuing down a schizophrenic path on 'No Future Part V', Stickles finally accepts his doppelganger as an uncompromising part of himself. Different elements of our hero's persona make cases for or against death in the prison scene that his actions have landed him in. If the shrink's drugs compressed his creativity and death stands in the way when he's not on them, this is the moment where Stickles confronts each pitfall. 'Stable Boy' is the tear-jerking tag to the record where Stickles unlocks the reasons he was born to die in 2010 on 'Four Score and Seven'. He surrounds himself with the grace of animals who run, sleep, and sing freely, and tries his best to imitate them. He's been "informed of forever," and makes a final effort to move on with his life amidst beautiful cricket-like drones that eventually swallow the song. The instrumental 'A Moral' closes TMLT out, ending in one long inhale as if our hero has just woken up from a deep sleep; ready to (hopefully) take on the world once again.

How much of TMLT's narrative is a real life tragedy, and how much is an abstract tale? Do the drones and churchlike vocals laid out over the album represent purity and peace while his doppelganger represents unshakeable reality? There's also many quixotic iterations of a female figure that consistently breathes hope into the story. The "radiant lady" on 'More Perfect Union', 'Siobhan', and whomever he's showing his fatal flaw to all attempt to resurrect a goodness that's lost in tracks like the two 'No Future' pieces. In order to navigate the frighteningly depressing depths of TMLT, it's essential to grasp on to these happier moments. They're more grounded than the fiery singles, and they showcase a combination of unfounded misery and wholesome joy across ninety minutes.

Calling this an album falls short of the mark. It's a musical representation of a story, sure, but it's also an exploration of psycho-therapy, city living, Hamlet, Mother Nature, and the state of rock and roll at large. The feeling that I get when I get through it all fills my heart to overflow. It's wonderful to take in something so masterful and complete after Local Business didn't do much to stoke the +@ flame (T the album's first half notwithstanding). The entire mythology is like a dense fog that captures everything Stickles has put to paper thus far, and its themes ask great questions not only of themselves and their narrative, but about human emotions and the moments across an interesting timeline where some feelings were more prevalent than others. Take the good with the bad, sometimes in tandem, and TMLT isn't that lamentable at all.

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