Review Summary: The National's true masterpiece, that managed to do everything its successor did, but with just a little more aplomb.
I was wondering how best to start yet another review of Boxer, and I decided to begin by talking about High Violet. It was 2010's runaway (har har) success, and settled firmly in the number one album spot of the year for many. It was universally acclaimed, and, more tellingly, was almost universally praised as The National's best album. Whilst this general consensus might influence my review a fair amount, there are plenty of other reviews for Boxer by now which discuss the musical specifics of the album in far greater detail than I'm about to. What I want, primarily, to focus on, is how Boxer is The National's greatest, and most underappreciated masterpiece.
Before I properly got into the band, I'd always been slightly disappointed by the paucity of the instrumental backing most of The National songs that I'd heard. I guess I must just have been incredibly unlucky in the tracks I chose to try out, but I'd always loved the vocals and lyrics, and just wished that there was a little more musical substance to back them up. As soon as I pressed play on Boxer, I was, finally, greeted with the warmth and complex instrumentation that I'd come to expect from my favourite music. The album opens unassumingly, and yet still invitingly, with the piano-driven 'Fake Empire.' Matt Berninger's simple, but endlessly captivating, baritone is present as always, with yet more equally simple, but equally captivating lyrics throughout the album. In this respect, it's every bit High Violet's equal, with Boxer's lyrics and melodies matching even its successors high points.
The album continues this streak of quality up until track six, 'Slow Show.' That's not to say Boxer loses its way at this point; these next few tracks are amongst the very finest that the band has to offer. This song marks the start of a quasi-trilogy of songs, and its lyrics describe the delirious happiness of the first few weeks of a new relationship. It's one of The National's, dare I say it, sweetest songs, with some of Berninger's most touching lyrics he's ever penned making up the coda. 'Apartment Story' is up next, and its typically satirical lyrics begin to indicate, not very subtly, that things are starting to go wrong in this romance. This is my personal favourite National song, with its driving drums and frantic guitars keeping pace with Berninger's equally unstable lyrics. The latter section of the song features some of the most, for lack of a less abundantly gushing word, perfect vocal melodies that I've heard in music for a long while. It's a sheer adrenaline rush of a song, and, I'm aware of how much of a cliche this is but it's justified here, it really is the high point of the 'rollercoaster ride' (I feel bad now.) ride that this series of tracks treats the listener to.
Next up, to finish the mini-suite, is 'Start A War,' which is, admittedly, the weakest of the three tracks, but nonetheless manages to withstand the pressure of having to follow such a jaw-dropping run. After this unexpectedly exhilarating and messy mix of emotional highs and lows in the middle of the album, its closing run is equally brilliant, with 'Racing Like A Pro' standing out in particular. That song, and 'Ada,' also feature Sufjan Stevens on piano, which is probably the only possible thing that could make the fanboy in my gush about this album more than I already have. By the end of the deliberately anti-climactic final track, 'Gospel,' the listener is left quietly satisfied with the last 43 minutes they've just been treated to. It's a more introspective finale than that of High Violet, and I feel like Boxer's quiet ending suits the band far more than the strings-drenched final track of their next album.
But other than a few minor gripes, why do I think that High Violet falls so obviously short of this album, their masterpiece? I certainly seem to be alone in this opinion. But the thing is, High Violet isn't quite the sheer constant stream of highlights that Boxer is. Sure, Conversation 16 is better than 11 out of the 12 tracks on here, but other than that, you're looking at a worrying amount of (gasp) filler on the band's 2010 outing. Sure, The National's filler is still quite a few miles ahead of a lot of other similar band's best efforts, but whilst High Violet begins to drag at points, not a moment on Boxer is wasted, and that's what makes it sound so vital, but at the same time so maturely restrained, a balance which its successor failed to achieve with quite the same aplomb.
This and High Violet are on a par for me, can't choose between them. Review was not bad man. I know the point of it was to compare the two albums, but it was a bit heavy on that angle for me to fully enjoy, it came off as more of a feature than a review
This reads more like a blog post than a review. Waaaaay too conversational, and - dare I say it - difficult to take seriously due to the heavy overtones of fanboyism. It's also a bit problematic to begin a review with a retrospective look at one of their other releases in my book.
The prose was solid, so I won't neg. But yeah, not a huge fan of this review. Keep at it though. You have some serious potential. Cheers.
Irving I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one.
Fair. There are some instances where it works more than others, but here it just seems like the writer simply just ran out of ideas and went "Okay fuck that - I'll write about High Violet for a bit and see where it takes me".
So damn strange to see you named wonarabbit btw. GIVE ME MY OLD RABBIT BACK.
Come on, Irving can't pump out long paragraphs of constructive criticism for every bad-mediocre review he reads, that's just too much work. And besides, he said enough and encouraged the reviewer to continue writing.
I guess as most of my reviews are of albums that have been reviewed countless times before, I always try and think of a new angle to judge an album by, instead of repeating what other writers have dome before. I see that this time it didn't pay off, so ty for the criticism anyway. (I also chose this comparison because I just read yet another end of year list which called this their best album and it was the straw that broke the camel's back XD)