Before Lana Del Rey titled her breakthrough album Born to Die, before Sleigh Bells titled the first heavy-bubblegum track released from their latest album "Born to Lose," Patrick Stickles was howling, "Tramps like us, baby, we were born to diiiiiieeee!" On the first studio recording to emerge from Titus Andronicus' upcoming LP Local Business, the Stickles-led, New Jersey-bred rockers score two major victories: First, they put to rest any concerns that the departure of dynamo multi-instrumentalist Amy Klein from the group might indicate they already peaked. Second, they've done the near impossible by coming up with a lyric video that's actually worth watching as a video. But that righteous, prophetic pessimism still undergirds each desperate shout, like the Louie theme song casting its existential shadow over Louie CK's every fart joke: You're lonely and self-loathing, and you're gonna die.
"In a Big City," posted today in lyric-video form on Titus Andronicus' Tumblr, holds true to the band's promise that their third album, due out October 23 on XL, will obliterate any boundaries between Titus Andronicus, the galvanizing live band, and Titus Andronicus, the studious studio rats. Neither stepping back from the ambition of 2010's Civil War-themed The Monitor nor tumbling headlong into Jethro Tull-dom, the track warps the band's Americana-infused, punk-charged, lyrically verbose rock into what appears to be an autobiographical form. The lyric video acts almost as a series of visual footnotes to Stickles' hyper-allusive, word-drunk storytelling, starting with a move to New York City and its "deluge of hipsters."
But Titus Andronicus aren't retreating into what SPIN contributor Barry Walters recently called "the Brooklyn boho ghetto." They have bigger targets: "I know life begins at the moment of consumption," Stickles roars, twisting the social-conservative crowd's beloved catch phrase into a commentary on consumerism. And this wouldn't be a Titus Andronicus song if Stickles spared himself: "Every cent I've ever earned I spent / And I would again," he howls, finally concluding that, "If you're chasing any other kind of currency son / You're really doing little more than twiddling your thumbs." If you ain't talking money, it's irrelevant.
So, to paraphrase another old Titus Andronicus song, it's still us against them, and they're still winning. But now Stickles acknowledges we're one of them, too — "We're a Winner," as Curtis Mayfield sang in a dramatically different context — and rather than dodge that fucked-up contradiction, he takes the plunge and embraces it. Victory or death, or both, if "In a Big City" is supposed to be a stimulus for Local Business, it's working. Titus Andronicus, the 47 percent thank you.