The Raw Power Award For Dubious Achievements in Production Values
By David M. Goldstein | 15 December 2012
Titus Andronicus: Local Business
It would take multiple encyclopedia volumes to correctly document the considerably fraught recording and production of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power (1973), but the Cliff Notes read something like this: post recording, a whacked out of his mind Iggy Pop first attempted to mix the album in London in October of 1972, and (most would say) failed rather spectacularly, segregating the vocal tracks and instruments into separate stereo channels and somehow utilizing only three of the twenty-four tracks allotted. Then benefactor David Bowie was brought on for an emergency remix in Los Angeles, but may have managed to muck up things even further, resulting in a commercial release with muted guitars and laughably tinny drums that drop in and out of the mix at will. Iggy Pop took a crack at remixing the master recordings in 1997 and overcompensated, pushing everything ridiculously into the red, resulting in clipping noises while predicting the Loudness Wars by a good ten years. The Bowie mix was eventually re-released as “The Legacy Edition.” The Pop remix was re-released minus the clipping noise. The very original Iggy Pop mix has circulated as a bootleg for years. It’s more than a little confusing, but the overriding point is not: sonics matter.
Titus Andronicus was hardly obligated to top The Monitor (2010). Bands don’t need to be reaching for the brass ring every single time, and most pop-punk acts would kill to put out a single record as perfectly epic as that one over the course of their lifespans. But they did have a duty to not make it sound like shit. Titus Andronicus have majorly handicapped themselves here. It’s difficult to assess the quality of the songwriting within simply because Local Business is one of the crappiest sounding albums from a major indie band in recent memory.
While their production values were never exactly what you would call crisp, The Monitor was a huge step up over the meat locker clanging of The Airing of Grievances (2008), and allowed us to start taking this band seriously. The drums had kick and the guitar solos rose above the noisy din; it was an exciting, energetic sound that made you want to see how they could pull it off onstage. Much has been written about how for the first time in the Titus life cycle, the same five guys in the recording studio are also the same five onstage. But I fear that’s not going to last once their drummer quits from realizing what a complete chump he sounds like on this album. Was reducing the snare to “pencil eraser tapping on yellow notebook paper” levels really part of the plan? The guitar solos are completely buried, and even Patrick Stickles sounds uncharacteristically yelp-y and weak, with a slightly higher pitch to his vocals that makes it sound like he reverted to age twelve between albums. The entire presentation sounds muted and oddly sterile; in several ways a worse recording than Grievances, which at the very least was energetic.
What the hell happened? Was Local Business even properly mastered before being pressed? The first three songs are catchy enough that they could be saved by a remix, and the otherwise pointless filler of “(I Am the) Electric Man” becomes funny when you realize it’s about Patrick Stickles getting electrocuted. But the lack of care taken towards the sonics renders Local Business little more than a missed opportunity, as well as a testament to why album producers such as Steve Albini, Nigel Godrich, and Butch Vig always seem to be employed. Those guys understand that the clarity of recorded music can directly impact one’s enjoyment of same. Apparently, Titus Andronicus don’t.