Review Summary: you're the tall kingdom I surround,
think I better follow you around
The reason that The National are one of the most unique and effective bands in music today is that they are an age defining band. Not an age defining band in the way that bands that use technology that no one has seen before are age defining, not age defining in the way that we always define the most popular bands as age defining, but age defining in the unique way that all of the bands albums seem to perfectly define a certain age. "Alligator" seemed to define the struggles of youth along with the looming struggle of growing up perfectly, "High Violet" defines the social nuances and responsibilities of finally being grown up, while "Boxer" seems to easily define the difficult yet always eventful struggle that is the transition from careless youth to the responsibilities of adulthood.
A lot of songwriters are good at writing about things that we always tend to write about
: the unique feeling of falling in love, the struggle of keeping friends, the reasons we become followers, the feeling of being on top of the world, the feeling of wanting to be someone else, the feeling of finding true love, the feeling of relishing new responsibilities, the feeling of letting go of the past and love, the feeling of escapism and adventure, the dark feelings that conformity brings about, the feeling of frustration, and the overall need for togetherness and harmony.
These are the themes that each song on "Boxer" tackles, but what makes Berninger one of the best songwriters around today is that he is able to use these somewhat generic themes and is still able to perfectly define the transition from youth to adulthood. "Fake Empire" lyrics give you the feeling of a young couple falling in love yet trying to tackle the new responsibilities they face, "Mistaken For Strangers" shows the two lovers being somewhat isolated against the world because of not only their love but their new responsibilities, "Brainy" shows Berninger scrambling for a love that is deeper than the brief exhilaration presented in "Fake Empire" and a love that can also tackle his new life, "Squealor Victoria" is the less cocky and enjoyable version of "All The Wine" as it describes a character who has reached his breaking point with all of his responsibilities and just wants to feel on top of the world and escape, "Green Gloves" shows Berninger regretting letting responsibilities ("Mistaken For Strangers") and love ("Fake Empire") get in the way of important friendships and it shows him wanting to be so involved with these people that it is almost like they are switching lives, "Slow Show" shows Berninger falling in love with the woman of his dreams but still having the feeling that his work and responsibilities will cause him to lose this love, "Apartment Story" is the relishing of the "on top of the world" feeling that Berninger's new responsibilities give him, "Start A War" is Berninger giving up on trying to balance a love, social, and work life, "Guest Room" is Berninger wanting to sneak off and escape to a new world to find love, "Racing Like A Pro" is Berninger's take on social conformity and the pain of having to sacrifice your life for the life of another person, "Ada" is Berninger's frustration at having to deal with someone who cannot deal with the reality of having to balance a social, work, and love life (it almost sounds like an intervention), and "Gospel" shows a character who at the end of this war with their new life is ready to settle down, be bored, and finally relax. The amazing thing about Berninger's songwriting on "Boxer" is not the generic themes that he tackles rather the order and the way in which he defines them and tackles them. Anyone can write about what Berninger is writing about but not in the concise order in which he writes about these themes in and the way in which he writes about them. Berninger's songwriting is one of the main reasons why "Boxer" perfectly defines the transition from careless youth to adulthood.
Another thing that helps The National define this transition so well is the quality of the bands instrumentation and the feel that this instrumentation gives the listener. "Fake Empire" has a beautiful piano riff that not only perfectly matches Berninger's monotone vocal but creates the "just fell in love" feeling that the National want to give the listener, the acoustic guitar and light piano not only help the song match Berninger's suddenly fast paced vocals and extremely witty lyrics but give the listener the feeling that Berninger's character is struggling to balance his new responsibilities with his new love, the drumming in "Squealor Victoria" not only segways perfectly into Berninger's scrambled vocals but gives the listener the feeling that this song should be taken as a more mature version of "All The Wine", and "Gospel" laid back piano riff gives the listener the feeling that Berninger is finally putting to rest the troubles of his youth and is finally ready to move on to the looming adulthood defined delicately in "High Violet." The National have a unique ability to not only to be distinguished and excellent musicians but the ability to make sure that this music perfectly matches a unique vocal style and gives the listener whatever feeling the National want the listener to have. The feelings that the excellent instrumentation and flow of this album gives the listener is another reason why "Boxer" was able to perfectly define the transition from careless youth to the responsibilities of adulthood.
The National would not be an age defining group if the quality of each song on this album was not extremely high. It is hard to find a weakness on "Boxer" as even the albums weakest songs ("Ada", "Guest Room", and "Brainy") would be songs that would be considered instant classics for just about every other band. The four song stretch of "Green Gloves", "Slow Show", "Apartment Story", and "Start A War" is one of the best in the bands history and each one of these classic songs sounds completely different. "Racing Like A Pro" features one of the most powerful choruses that the band has ever produced and "Gospel" is the perfect summarization and conclusion to the album even though it lacks the passion of the bands other closers ("Mr. November" and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks".) If the songs on this album were not of the utmost quality the National would not be able to define this generation with such ease.
The National have defined a different age group perfectly with every album they have released and "Boxer" is no different. The lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and the overall quality of the songs on this album will make you feel like you are twenty-six even if you are sixty-six. While The National may never reach the status of other age defining groups like U2 they did something that those groups never could do, actually define an age.