Because listening to The National doesn’t equate to selecting a handful of songs or middling around in the sound of the New Yorkers’ misery for four solid minutes. It’s about hearing the band capture a feeling, one that can last for however long the listener requires.
In part an extension of their museum performance, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ feels like a victory lap. A celebration of The National’s appeal. The formula isn’t flipped, here. In fact it’s barely budged from 2005’s ‘Alligator’ up to now. But the band’s last album was a validation, a prolonged step forwards onto festival stages and sold-out shows. Not only is this work The National’s most confident, it’s also the sound of their uniquely conveyed melancholy being sapped of all its energy, used for all its worth.
Mood isn’t the only aspect that’s replicated. The experience of a National album is never immediate. Many a loyal fan will likely attest to failed attempts at trying to get friends to fall in love with their favourite band on cursory listens, and as it stands ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is less a slow-burner, more an intriguing stranger on early plays. It’s the guy who slumps alone in the corner of a bar, the one with all the interesting stories who might appear unapproachable.
And then it hits. Just as every National album does. The stories seep out, tales of tunnel vision on ‘Humiliation’, the inability to balance one’s emotions on ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, dealing with nagging doubt and life’s crux on ‘Demons’. It’s all there. The grim realities, sealed up neat by the customary hi-hat-heavy percussion, soaring horn sections, a pendulum swing between enlivened and ravished (‘Graceless’), sparse and acoustic-led (‘Fireproof’).
You’d be forgiven for declaring it formulaic. Spineless, even. But like Matt Berninger’s own experiences of latching onto a decent living, staying in touch with close friends and keeping a loved one by his side, only the most important things in life ought to be immune to change. And while The National don’t progress or indeed offer anything new to outstanding cynics, they instead rejoice in their strengths of detailing life and all its sorry baggage in the most beautiful of ways.
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