So, yeah, there is a "Like A Rolling Stone" cover on this record. And, nope, I have no idea what to make of that. The first question it raises is whether a good cover of that song can actually exist. My feeling, after listening to this record, is that it can when the whole record is essentially a fifty minute cover of the damn thing.
Let me back up. Titus Andronicus have released their new record, "A Productive Cough," to relatively little fanfare this week, and it is as classic rock as they have ever been. Lead singer and songwriter Patrick Stickles has never hidden his love of the opulence and classic rock riffs of late 60's early 70's AOR, but it's never been foregrounded like this. His lyrics are still barked out in a punk rock belch, but the guitars, horns and boogie piano are straight up "Exile On Main Street." And Dylan, of course, hovers like a ghost over the whole enterprise. First single, "Number One (In New York)," is basically "Subterranean Homesick Blues" stretched out to prog length: a breathless ramble of impressionistic couplets that somehow remains compelling for its entire eight minutes.
Stickles has always been one of indie rock's most underappreciated lyricists. His use of internal rhyme is particularly impressive: "Deplorable forces conspire to fire the lord/and to hire a guy who will try to eat more of the portions."
There's a really percussive hip-hop quality to the rhythm and rhymes of his language here (which is nodded to almost too explicitly in "Real Talk"). He's so wordy that just to get everything out in the course of a song sometimes takes things like notes and melody out of the equation completely. But when he slows down, as on the oddly Waits-esque "Mass Transit Madness," its as effective as the most beautiful moments on their still-peak, "The Monitor."
As Father John Misty has often proved, conviction covers a multitude of sins, and Stickles can be susceptible to up-his-own-assness as much as FJM. Bur he also shares an almost inexplicable ability to pull all his shit off. This is an indulgent, ungainly record and even when the songwriting is as strong as this, that can be a hurdle for listeners. But if you tune in to his sweaty and verbose anarchy, you'll get blissfully lost in this monster.
And as far as the "Like A Rolling Stone" cover? It's a beast.