Review Summary: The sky with a big slice of lemon
There are certain things that I would have not been doing this time last year. I would not be going around my house screaming that I was "A perfect piece of ass" and a "birthday candle in a circle of black girls", I would not be constantly comparing myself to Tennessee Williams, I would not answer all of my texts and calls saying "don't screw this up" with "I won't f--- us over, I'm Mr. November", and I definitely would have not have found it swell to go around singing in a baritone. But in 2009 I hadn't discovered the National and their masterpiece "Alligator". Now all these things I randomly do make perfect sense to me and I feel like I should do more random stuff to honor this record because I feel like it does so much for me every time I listen to it. The great style of songwriting, the excellent instrumentation, and the vocals make this a classic album
The National are one of the few bands out there today that write about whatever they want to write about and are still damn good. The songwriting is extremely effective on "Alligator" because the lack of a filter and also because of repetition. A song done on “Alligator” can make you feel like the song has almost three or four choruses with the amount of repetition being done but since the songwriting is so good and original it ends up being a clear positive when for most artists it would have been an obvious negative. The National also seem to be defying generations or age groups with every song they have. You can easily relate to their lyrics no matter what age group you were in or what music you like. If you find a person that hates the opening verse of "All The Wine" or the chorus of "Mr. November" you should probably go ahead and punch them in the face. I keep using "All The Wine" and "Mr. November" as examples of good songwriting on this album but just about every song has a memorable lyric or lyrical moment. "Secret Meeting" is defined by its pre-chorus chant of: "I'm sorry I missed you I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain". Karen is a song that has plenty of catchy lyrics that seem to have no filter: "Karen put me in a chair, f--- me and make me a drink, I've lost direction and I'm past my peak". The song in my opinion effectively describes a man struggling in a relationship because he doesn't know how to value his partner. "Lit Up" all ready has you tied in with its opening riff but the lyric to start off the song is one of the more bad ass (get used to that) lyrics you will ever hear: "My bodyguard shows a revolver to anyone who ask". The song gets a lot of momentum from that opening line and ends up being somewhat of an anthem for the party scene and young people struggling in relationships. "Looking For Astronauts" is probably one of the weaker songs on the album but the line "You know you had a permanent piece of my medium size American heart" is one of the better lyrics you will ever hear or experience. The National are such good songwriters that they can basically turn any song around with one clever line. "Daughters of the Soho Riots” has a second verse that perfectly flows into its classic chorus of "Break the arms around the one you love" and "Baby We'll Be Fine" has a very well written opening verse highlighted by the lyric: "I take a forty-five minute shower and kiss the mirror". "Friend of Mine" is one of the first rockers of the album highlighted by the desperate lyric: "I've got two sets of headphones, I miss you like hell" and "Val Jester" while the weakest song of the album is highlighted by the almost evil lyric: "How she lives in your blood". "All The Wine" is just a songwriting clinic the whole way through almost perfectly describing the feeling of having a little too much and feeling on top of the world, I really like "My minds not right" opening rock out session of "Abel" and the verses that follow are also solid. "The Geese Of Beverly Road" is one of the more underrated tracks by the band and the breakdown to this song is absolute lyrical heaven and the same goes for "City Middle". "Mr. November" is one of the better songs you will ever hear and it is highlighted by a gigantic chorus. Overall the consistency and originality of songwriting and the lyrics on "Alligator" is nothing short of unbelievable and is unmatched by any indie competitors.
I love the instrumental work on "Alligator" almost as much as the songwriting. The National cover just about every song you would want to have on a complete indie album. A lot of the songs hear are at a normal pace, a lot at a fast pace, and a lot are slower. But the thing is that the National are equally brilliant in all of these different styles of music. Multiple instruments are used throughout the album and the National seemed to have perfected as a band any instrument that they choose to play. The instruments also do a great job of matching Matt's baritone voice, something very hard to do considering the uniqueness of his voice. Almost every song has an instrumental highlight but some moments stand out more than others: The relaxed riff that lets Matt sing some of the most bad ass lyrics you will ever hear in "Karen", the sheer beauty of all of the instrumentation done on the vastly underestimated "The Geese of Beverly Road", the riff in the pre chorus in "Mr. November", the haunting feel that the instruments create in the breakdown of the brilliant "City Middle". The amount of instruments used, the way they perfectly compliment Matt's voice, and the classic moments they provide make this another yet another obvious strength of "Alligator".
The vocals are also a major highlight of this album. If you are just starting to listen to the National you might think that the vocals and the singing style are going to be the thing that is going to prevent you from liking the band, BUT after a while this actually just makes you like them even more than you thought is possible. Really after I spent this summer by constantly listening to this band I really thought that everybody should sing in this voice. The baritone style makes the album even more unique and it gives him the ability to sing about just about anything he wants. Imagine if just an average band was singing: "Hey Love. We'll get away with it, we'll run like we're awesome, totally genius" we would dismiss this as rather amateurish songwriting right? But because of Matt's voice it just seems well awesome and totally genius. That is the advantage to having a voice like his it essentially allows him to have no filter and it makes mediocre lyrics seem like the greatest thing ever because his voice perfectly matches the brilliant instrumentation. This is also the album where he uses his vocal talents the best singing aggressively and non aggressively. If you listen to the National's later masterpieces he seems to just be singing in one consistent voice the whole album, but on "Alligator" he is willing to scream, moan, and display all the emotions he feels is needed to make the songs successful. This is one of the main reasons I think "Alligator" is slightly better than "Boxer" and "High Violet". The distinctiveness of the vocal style, the options it gives Matt as a singer, and the range he shows on different tracks make the vocal style a very positive thing on "Alligator"
"Alligator" maybe the most influential indie album I have ever listened to. I never thought that I would be going around my house singing that I was a "perfect piece of ass" or "a birthday candle in a circle of black girls" or any of the examples I gave earlier. These things may seem crazy to you or just about anyone who is not me. Or maybe you just need to listen to this album and you will do even crazier things than I mention earlier, maybe the impeccable songwriting, crafty musicianship, and unique vocals will drive you insane. I really don't know. All I know is you do crazy things when you fall in love.