Titus Andronicus: A Productive Cough Album Review – Organized Chaos

On their 5th studio album, New Jersey based band, Titus Andronicus, abandons their punk rock roots for the more subdued folk rock sounds of the 1960s-70s.

A Productive Cough album cover
Source: Merge Records

I discovered Titus Andronicus when a friend got me The Monitor for Christmas during my sophomore year of high-school. Their distinctly punk-rock-meets-americana-folk sound definitely caught my attention. Since then, Titus Andronicus has been slowly abandoning their punk roots with the bar-band sounding Local Business and the ballad heavy The Most Lamentable Tragedy. Titus Andronicus completes their evolution with A Productive Cough; stripping away the last hints of their early punk sound and fully embracing their folk rock influences.

This album feels and sounds like folk rock from the late 60s and early 70s.
Titus Andronicus's frontman, Patrick Stickles
Source: Paul R. Giunta/Getty Images

From the lyrics to the chord progressions, Titus Andronicus always had elements of folk rock in their music; but they always sounded more like Bruce Springsteen’s brand of folk rock. A Productive Cough abandons the Springsteen influence to sound like something that came out of the Dylan Highway 61 Revisited or The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers sessions. There is a sloppy swagger that surrounds every track on this album. There seems to be a lot of instruments doing their own thing, while loosely following the rhythm and melody; which produces a very laid-back sounding groove on every track.

At times this approach produces a very cluttered sound, like on bar-band sounding “Above the Bodega”, “Real Talk”, and “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone”; however the band comes together seamlessly on huge sounding, anthemic moments, like on politically charged “Number One”, “Crass Tattoo”, and the self-reflecting “Mass Transit Madness”. The only song that doesn’t follow this approach is the aggressive garage-rock “Home Alone”; which provides an interesting guitar led, mostly instrumental, break reminiscent of “Food Fight” off of Local Business.

The production of this album is one of this album’s greatest assets and pitfalls.

I don’t want to say the production is inconsistent, because it’s not. It does a great job at taming the many different sounds of each track and making it sound like a cohesive small band with a booming sound. However, the stripped down approach to producing the album causes some songs to like a chaotic mess. For example, “Real Talk” is a very chantey-esque song; however, the stripped down production doesn’t emphasize any one track, causing it to sound like a chaotic mess at times. This technique works well on tracks like “Number One” and “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone”, but it causes tracks like “Real Talk” and “Above the Bodega” to suffer.

Compared to the rest of Titus Andronicus’s albums, “A Productive Cough” might be their closest album to mainstream appeal since their debut, The Airing of Grievances.
Titus Andronicus at Coachella 2011
Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

I can understand why most people probably are indifferent or dislike Titus Andronicus’s music. They are a bit abrasive, eccentric, and they aren’t the best musicians. I can see why people could dislike them. That being said, I love them for those qualities. They aren’t focused on perfection or mainstream appeal. They are focused on making something imperfect and human by expressing personal yet relatable and real problems and emotions. Their music isn’t disguised as something more than it is. With this album, I believe they have finally found the perfect musical style to compliment their ideas. In the words of Patrick Stickles, “I’m through talking to you, there’s no more left to say. My words are all worthlessly murmured away, and my gaze is returning once more towards the maze.”

Score: 8/10

Best Tracks: “Number One”, “Above the Bodega”, “Crass Tattoo”, “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone”, and “Mass Transit Madness”

Worst Track: “Home Alone”

Mason Cheng

Music Intern

I like music. Sometimes I write about it.