Review: The National, “Trouble will Find Me”

21/05/2013 at 19:31 (Reviews, Writing) (, , , )

The National are a band who, like the wine that vocalist Matt Berninger will quaff in a pre-gig ritual to ease enduring stage-fright, only get better with time.

To me, their discography has always seemed like the progression of a relationship, via the most personal of love letters. 2001 and the eponymous album saw lusty awkwardness thread itself through tracks such as Perfect Song (“Wanted me to take you home/You said you’d rather be alone…Car is warm and we had wine/But I couldn’t find the perfect song.”) The debut took us through the teething problems and agonized misunderstandings, those tender-fierce I need you/I don’t need you’s of any fledgling relationship. By contrast, 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was livid with wildfire mood swings, and as much about the experimentation of a relationship as a channeling of that attitude (Available: “Do you still feel clean/When the only dirt is the dirt I left/How can you blame yourself/When I did everything I wanted to?”)

Through the subsequent three albums, the relationship has matured into something ready to override the indignity of losing whole pieces of the Self – voluntarily given, or laid down to preserve what feels worth taking beyond blind longing and lust. For me, the National have always broadcast an awareness of the non-linearity of love, the faults and forgiveness. Some things are worth all the lies and absences, are worth taking further. Isn’t that what makes us adult, and heartsore with it in the end?

This, their sixth album, finds the relationship on that melancholic stretch across the face of the world. Lives that have become so intertwined now seem impossible to pull apart; with the bittersweet tone comes the realization that Yes, every day will be the same, but to try and live otherwise, is unbearable (“If you lose me, I’m gonna die .. Things are tougher than we are.”)

Exploring the exquisite range of his voice, chocolate and honey by degrees, Matt Berninger tells us of life on the road. It’s that much-vaunted rockstar life which so many would kill for, and in turn has the knack of killing that which we need most. Absence can just as easily kill a heart’s light as make it fonder (“I am good and I am grounded, Davy says that I look taller/But I can’t get my head around it, I keep feeling smaller and smaller.”)

With the band, we’re flung into the loneliness of crowds, the shift-shuffle world of tours and studio. There’s a need for balance between adventure and home (“Everything I love is on the table, everything I love is out to sea.”) As ever with their lyrics, names are dropped with the tenderness of a well-thumbed paperback, each page someone else’s personality. We find these people in our living rooms, our bedrooms and lives (“Jenny, I am in trouble/I can’t get these thoughts out of me.”)

Now-familiar beats chronicle the National’s sound – Graceless could well be the darker twin of Bloodbuzz Ohio, that heart-race anthem of fifth album High Violet. The triumph of Ohio is replaced with something altogether more poignant, a frustration of care that seems inherent of adulthood; the knowledge that love and willpower alone still might not change a situation (“I’m trying, but I’m graceless/Don’t have the sunny side to face this.”)

Not all the old fire has dimmed though. The trials and tribulations of a wider, harder world are a shock to the system, until balance is found with a grim smile (“I was teething on roses/I was in guns and noses … she wore Blue Velvet/Says she can’t help it.”) It’s standing before the two-way mirror, seeing yourself in another’s actions, and being unable to break the glass.

Never afraid to deride himself (“You didn’t see me, I was falling apart…I was a television version of a person with a broken heart,”) Matt is on top autobiographical form. From the staccato drums and baroque waves of Sea of Love to the trickle-honey chords of I need my Girl, this is an album worth tapping into for its sepia tones and acknowledgment of love’s hard road.

 photo 1cff229d-e63a-4bfa-9d8c-765ccb0f76be_zps5687512f.jpg


I Should Live In Salt
Don’t Swallow The Cap
Sea Of Love
This Is The Last Time
I Need My Girl
Pink Rabbits
Hard To Find

Other songs:
Exile Vilify

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