Review Summary: I'll never be anything you ever want me to be
There’s a moment during the penultimate track “Pink Rabbits” when The National epitomizes their appeal, in all its simplistic glory. Matt Beringer’s trademark baritone vocals are layered, reinforcing the wondrous soothing tones in his voice that fans of the band have always loved unconditionally, and the simple guitar melodies of the twin brothers combine with piano and some quiet, but still soaring horns, to create a tapestry of sound that could only have come from the Brooklyn five-piece. Technically, nothing too impressive is going on – even the drum kit, which takes centre stage on the majority of their songs, slips into the background unassumingly with its simple bass/snare pattern. Beringer’s lyrics here are perfectly fitting as well. He seems to lethargically force out this bitter complaint and yet repeat it multiple times like it’s desperately important that it be heard: “You said it would be painless – a needle in the dark. You said it would be painless – it wasn’t that at all.” It is spelled out plainly – no metaphors or trickery here – just like all of their best lyrics. It is a passive piece of destructive self-talk, the sound of someone overstaying their welcome in the confines of misery. In a way, this lyric embodies the band’s general motif wholly, and the music, very representative of their overall musical style, reinforces this with its unassuming simplicity. The appeal of this band’s music lies in the atmosphere that they are able to effortlessly create and cultivate over the span of four minutes. Very rarely does anything floor the listener immediately; their music is more likely to slowly work its way under the skin upon repeated listens, and before you know it, you can’t get their simple, catchy, and yet powerful music out of your head.
As a fan, it’s hard to articulate this band’s appeal to non-fans. More often than not, I end up hypocritically exclaiming that they “just don’t get it” in frustration. And when I actually sit down to try to analyze it myself, I can’t even put a finger on precisely why they are one of my favourite bands. I love the vocals and drums for their aesthetic appeal, and Matt Beringer’s lyrics have always resonated with me, but that’s surely not enough for me to claim now five of their albums as nothing short of masterpieces. But that’s precisely why The National is such a special band to me: they transcend my inner critic, my inherent desire to rank, analyze, justify, critique, and tear music apart. I stop what I’m doing and pay full attention every time the chorus of “Graceless” plays, and this overpowering feeling transcends any shallow and ultimately futile attempts at criticism. The National’s music has always struck me as completely genuine and honest, and the lack of frills is really seen as a positive here. Each of their albums has, at one point, driven me into fits of obsessive listening. It’s emotionally draining to become so attached to a National record, and even though I should know better, they hook me every damn time. The music is so incredibly human and personal in a way virtually non-comparable to any other rock band in existence. I feel like I’m the only one on Earth listening to Trouble Will Find Me when put it on, like I’m the only one that those words were meant for. Is that enough of a justification for a four-and-a-half star rating and hyperbolic claims about the alleged “best indie rock band in the world”? Absolutely not, but I couldn’t possibly care less.
Great piece here, honest and relatable. You reach well for why this band is so magical and how Berninger's baritone and lyrical style is so affecting (that it's like he's delivering the words right to you - shivers). Nice work.
"so so so excited to see them with Frightened Rabbit in September"
I hate you.
The album has grown on me as predicted, but I still wouldn't rank it alongside Alligator, Boxer or High Violet. I think I was hoping for them to, I dunno, mix things up a little more. I might bump it to a 4 at some point.
Really great review man. Agree 100% that it's hard to explain the band's appeal. I try to get my housemate into them, but he just wants to listen to Fake Empire and leave it. Their albums require time, but once they hook you in they really get you.
This is probably 4.5 for me but I 5'd it because it's just inevitable that it will become a classic.