Review Summary: Everything slips...
If you were to ask one thousand random National fans what their favorite album by them is, it’s most likely you’ll get around an equal amount of votes for Alligator
& High Violet
. General fan consensus states that The National’s self-titled debut album is easily their worst (similar to Radiohead and Pablo Honey
). Their sophomore outing, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers
, was better, but still had room for improvement. After that, however, is where the feelings get more divided. Personally, my favorite is High Violet
being a close second, but there are still thousands of people who would think otherwise. That’s just one of the facts that make The National such a spectacular band: their ability to consistently churn out great album after great album.
Of course, after three magnificent albums in a row, there’s going to be lots of hype for the next one. And sometimes, the hype can overpower the actual album itself. And let me get this straight, Trouble Will Find Me
is still a great album. But compared to High Violet
, even Boxer
, it sits at the kiddie’s table. There are still many highlights, but some of the songs just don’t click for me like they did on High Violet
. A perfect example of this is “Demons”: it has a monotonous and repetitive chorus, average verses, but everything from the bridge forward is excellent, the song’s saving grace. “Humiliation” would be a better track if it weren’t so similar to the vastly superior “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, and because of this it comes off as one of the weaker tracks on the album. “Hard to Find” and “Fireproof” both drag on for four minutes, mainly because Matt Berninger’s vocals just sound tired and bored, and the minimalistic instrumentals don’t help things either.
Luckily, a couple yawn-inducing and average tracks doesn’t stop Trouble Will Find Me
from hitting full stride. Matt Berninger’s vocals are still excellent (when not boring), and the more melodic tracks are a perfect example of this. Opener “I Should Live in Salt” has Berninger crooning “I should live in salt for leaving you behind”. Even if no one knows what it particularly means, it still sounds beautiful.
Trouble Will Find Me
has many highlights, but amongst them all, “Graceless” stands out the most. Bryan Devendorf’s drumming is spectacular, and from the beginning of the song where the drums mesh in flawlessly with Berninger’s “ooh”’s, to the end where all of the instruments culminate into one huge climax. Huge climaxes have been missing on this album, which partially makes it a step down from its predecessors, but “Graceless” is the album’s shining glory. That one moment in the chorus where Bryan just so beautifully pounds the drums while Berninger cries out “I am not my rosy self / left my roses at the shelf” as the instrumentals wail on and on is just pure beauty.
Although the more melodic tracks on Trouble Will Find Me
are better, some of the more restrained songs can also evoke the same emotions with such force of passion. A perfect example of this is “I Need My Girl”, where the minimalistic background expresses the pain and desperation in Berninger’s vocals perfectly. Even “Slipped” manages to overcome a slow start due to its emotionally moving chorus and painfully honest and relatable lyrics. “I don’t want you grieve, but I want you to sympathize” has to be one of the best lyrics written in recent memory, and Berninger sings it like he means it
All in all, Trouble Will Find Me
is still a great album. But compared to The National’s previous works, it’s a disappointment. And honestly, it’s not a big surprise that this wasn’t as good as High Violet
. Making three classic albums in a row is a hard enough feat to pull off, but making four is nearly impossible. If judged solely as an album by a band never heard of before, this would be one of their best works. But since The National can do so much better, trouble unfortunately finds them on their sixth album.