Review Summary: Nothing to see here, just The National churnin' out another timeless piece of art. They got this shit on lock.
The National can do no wrong. There, I said it. Now, before you roll your eyes at that clichéd, almost benign statement of praise, take a moment to remember who it is we’re talking about. When I say “The National can do no wrong,” I don’t mean it in a general, sweeping kind of way, like all of their music is of a high quality despite some missteps here and there. I mean that ever since Alligator,
they literally haven’t made one misstep in any moments of any of their songs. They can do no wrong.
I truly believe that they’re now a band with a process so precisely and thoroughly worked out, that even if something strikes you as out of place at first, it’s only a matter of time before you realize that it’s most certainly not
out of place. It’s perfect. Again.
The National know how to walk the line. They know that the best way to follow a masterpiece is not only with another masterpiece, but one with a different atmosphere and different thematic elements than the predecessor. Trouble Will Find Me
is a shining example of this idea. The National have never sounded this grandiose or bombastic. Opener ‘I Should Live In Salt’ echoes with an elegant hugeness that hits you in a strikingly different manner than many other National songs. But it still hits you, and the band knows that that’s what matters.
The band has also never sounded as careful as they do on ‘Fireproof,’ balancing a number of contradictory sentiments on the tip of one eerie, impeccable atmosphere. In the chorus, Berninger commends the song subject’s emotional endurance (“you’re fireproof/nothing breaks your heart”
), and in the third verse, he slyly reminds the subject not to get ahead of themselves (“Jennifer, you are not the only one to sit awake ‘til the wild feelings leave you.”
) The band also seems to have a newfound appreciation for elaboration, shown on many of the tracks, but most obviously on ‘Pink Rabbits.’ The last act of the song contains a number of different melodies that gradually get tacked on, but they’re all just as potent as the one that came before and it never gets to be too much. The song’s last lament, “You said it would be painless – a needle in a doll. You said it would be painless, it wasn’t that at all,”
has a tingling, acidic sense of closure to it that makes it perfect for closing out the song. Although the band has never been this grandiose, they advance into that uncharted territory proudly (but not pretentiously) wielding their uncanny knack for building every song differently, but making them all seem completely natural. Completely right.
So The National has succeeded in satisfying with a new sound. But not every album can be Kid A.
The band continues to tap dance on that line, and while creating new sounds and textures, also remembers to make use of why everyone fell in love with them in the first place: fresh, infectious melodies and unnervingly on-point lyricism. As they also were on Alligator, Boxer,
and High Violet,
Berninger’s words here are so precisely and purposefully put together that they tend to hit people hard
while leaving no explanation as to how or why. In ‘Graceless,’ he really goes all-out with his self-deprecating, and invites you to shake hands with your own inner nihilist with the line “God loves everybody, don’t remind me.”
This seeming contradiction seems to make more and more sense just by reading it over a few times. If God loves everybody, then what makes any one of us special? The number of words he rhymes with “graceless” without ever sounding forced or contrived is pretty impressive as well. Every line shimmers along with its respective melodies and textures, giving you the feeling that there has
to be a reason he phrased that line like that, even if you don’t quite understand it yet.
The National have done it again. They’ve succeeded in making an album that sounds different enough to keep things interesting and not remind fans too much of past albums, but familiar enough to keep their identity intact. Trouble Will Find Me
is just as much of a classic as Alligator, Boxer,
and High Violet,
because it meets all the same criteria, but in a different way. There’s abundant variation in how each song is built. Every melody perfectly matches its respective lyrics, and is potent enough to be memorable without reminding you too much of something you’ve heard before. The album is also perfectly paced; the tear-jerking trance induced by “Heavenfaced” is broken by the upbeat, but still morose (per the album’s unifying atmosphere) “This Is the Last Time,” and “Graceless” takes you further down the rabbit-hole. But most importantly, every song here is transcendent enough to resonate with anyone on levels most bands will never dream of reaching. If the album doesn’t hit you that hard yet, just listen to it some more. It’s The National. It’s only a matter of time.