Review Summary: Jesus Christ you have confused me...
Like all bad reviewers, I'm going to begin by asking you to imagine a scene. You are Matt Berninger, the vocalist, you are alone in a darkened room and you are drunk. The words of a girl who was very recently yours slosh around your skull, teasing out both depression and anger which in turn sparks confusion. With all your remaining willpower you stretch for a guitar and a pen and begin the long task of transferring emotions from your mind to paper. I very much doubt that this is how Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers
came into existence, but it's the image that is projected by the music and that's what is most important.
Because the album is
depressed, it is angry and most of all it is confused. Themes veer wildly from escapism to rejection, from delusion to rage. It's a mixed bag of self-absorbed melancholy that doesn't really open itself up before you can picture the album as a whole, which may sound a little daunting to some but for those such as myself the unraveling is the best part of the experience.
On a lyrical level, Berninger is surprisingly frank, both with his own emotions and with how explicitly he chooses to phrase his songs.
"You fuck yourself to clear your head"
While this initially comes across as sleezy, the context that it's written in allows this since a broken-down lover is predisposed to uttering the odd obscenity. Berninger does prove that he can do more than describe his 9 o'clock rituals, the album is a mixture of memorable one liners (see the preview for this review), complete stories and obscure references that tie in to the narrative-based songs. It's too disjointed to be dubbed as a "concept album" but the continuity helps build up this lonely figure that we began with, and in turn helps us relate to him.
These lyrics wouldn't amount to much without the musicianship tying everything together and, regrettably, this is where cracks start to appear in what has so far been the makings of a fantastic album. At times the mixture of acoustic guitars and strings works exceptionally well such as in "Thirsty" and "Cardinal Song", but there are speckles of weakness in a few of the songs. The main culprit is "Murder Me Rachael" which borders on irritating and repetitive, though mostly by contrast with the rest of the album.
There is variety to be found, with some dabbling in electronic music (always a dangerous decision) in "Patterns of Fairytales" though it's kept subtle and in line with the atmosphere of the album, but structually The National don't venture from a handful of templates. This is not to say that songs sound the same, but it makes a few of them a bit more predictable and I would have liked the album to surprise
me a bit more than it did.
All in all, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers
can best be described by it's title, and also the fact that "it's good". You probably know for yourself whether this is your kind of thing, because it certainly takes some getting into, but if you're willing and have the time then invest some of that time in this album.