The National
Boxer


5.0
classic

Review

by Tom Gellatly USER (40 Reviews)
April 2nd, 2011 | 49 replies | 5,594 views


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The National's true masterpiece, that managed to do everything its successor did, but with just a little more aplomb.

2 of 2 thought this review was well written

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.



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user ratings (1727)
Chart.
4.3
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Hurricanslash
April 2nd 2011



375 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Decent review, but I think you fell a little into fanboyism. Anyways, I don't really like this band.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
April 2nd 2011



7326 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This has grown on me a lot recently, I've always thought of it as the weakest of their big three albums.

Apartment Story might be my favourite song of theirs.

MarvellousG
April 2nd 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'd probably reluctantly agree that I fell into fanboyism here, but the strange thing is, this is the only National album I'd possibly consider myself a fanboy of. XD

Also, Apartment Story is definitely my number 1 too.

Scoot
April 2nd 2011



17726 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I agree, it's their best. Not a bad review.

Wouldn't say it's underrated at all though.

Hurricanslash
April 2nd 2011



375 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I just listened to some tracks of this album (and of High Violet). No, I still don't like these guys.

defjaw83
April 2nd 2011



1765 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

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

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 2nd 2011



23806 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

best National album. one of my favourites of all time.

the 1-2 punch of "Slow Show" and "Apartment Story" is way too good

Gyromania
April 2nd 2011



15493 Comments


"Guest Room" is my favorite National song.

defjaw83
April 2nd 2011



1765 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

They'll find us here, here in the guest room where we throw money at each other and cry

Irving
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2011



7170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

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.

Digging: Ty Segall - Manipulator

Psychopathologist
April 2nd 2011



1924 Comments


alligator is better

but i agree that guest room is incredible

wabbit
April 2nd 2011



6988 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

" It's also a bit problematic to begin a review with a retrospective look at one of their other releases in my book."
Irving I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one. It works well in say a Kid A/ Amnesiac review or even Boxer/ Alligator. But I do agree it seems a little strange here.

This is about a million and four times better than HV.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2011



7170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

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.

Gyromania
April 2nd 2011



15493 Comments


I find it so odd seeing you swear, Irving :P

wabbit
April 2nd 2011



6988 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

God you are becoming cynical. 2 months ago you would have given this guy a full page of pros and cons (seriously you once did one that was longer than the review) now you just insult his work.

And ya it would be sweet to have the old account back...also you should listen to this album it is one of the best things ever.

Gyromania
April 2nd 2011



15493 Comments


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.

MarvellousG
April 2nd 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

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)

Blackbelt54
April 2nd 2011



4269 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nice review, but High Violet isn't "almost universally praised as the National's best album"

also, I wouldn't say Boxer is underappreciated

Blackbelt54
April 2nd 2011



4269 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nice review, but High Violet isn't "almost universally praised as the National's best album"

also, I wouldn't say Boxer is underappreciated

Blackbelt54
April 2nd 2011



4269 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

whoops



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