Remember the Keystone Kops and the way their paddy wagon would careen wildly down the road and all the Kops would be hanging on for dear life as they were whipped about crazily? Listening to Titus Andronicus' debut record, The Airing of Grievances, makes you think that maybe the band recorded the album in much the same way the Kops chased criminals. It's a rollicking, rambling, yowling mess of a record framed by the band's half-baked literary ambitions (check the band's name and references to Cormac McCarthy and Albert Camus) and vocalist Patrick Stickles' yelping vocals (which are oddly reminiscent of Mick Jones at his most stray cat-like). In the Keystone Kops scenario, he's the wagon and the bandmembers are the ones just barely holding on. Or maybe it's more of a tug of war where everyone ends up in the mud. Either way, the wild dynamic action makes The Airing of Grievances an exhausting, entertaining listen.
At their best on tracks like the title song and "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ," Titus Andronicus sound like Bright Eyes with their guitars plugged right into the wall socket or Arcade Fire with fewer lessons but more consumption of cheap beer. The group's untrammeled, enthusiastic attack covers up almost every tiny flaw in the album's design. For example, the far too reverential Springsteen cop at the beginning of "Joset of Nazareth's Blues" is redeemed by the sheer improbability of Al-Rawi's unhinged vocal style. Elsewhere, it might be weak lyrics saved by guitar heroics, or less than inventive song structures fixed by the overflow of energy that flows through the record like a river of beer sweat. Nothing can fix the meandering ballad "No Future, Pt. 1," which pretty much stops the record dead in the home stretch -- the band, and especially Al-Rawi, just might not be cut out for introspective power ballads. The songs that follow finish up the album on a high note, though, with closer "Albert Camus" proving that the guys can slow down a bit without losing the drive that sustains them elsewhere. The Airing of Grievances isn't a perfect record by any means, but it is a lot of fun -- and if they can avoid cleaning up their sound too much and keep plugging away, they may come up with something great someday.