We hope you like hype and hyperbole, because The National have returned to a sea of salivation from indie boys the world over.
One of the most hotly-anticipated records of 2013, not only does Trouble Will Find Me have a lot of to live up to with the other great spoils of the year, but it has to go the extra mile to live up to the monolithic shadow cast by The National’s past few efforts.
Their ascent to greatness from cult-favourite third LP Alligator, through to the near-perfect Boxer and the Gold-selling breakthrough High Violet has seen the Brooklyn five-piece stride from indie heroes to critics’ darlings, festival-headliners and New York Times cover stars without sacrificing their art or integrity in a fashion not seen since just before REM hit paydirt. But will Trouble Will Find Me see The National cross over into stadium-selling supermegahugeness or remain modest but marvellous? Let’s have a listen and find out...
'I Should Live In Salt'
“Don’t make me read your mind – you should know me better than that,” mournfully pines Matt Berninger opening the album. Wandering higher than his usual baritone, Berninger sounds refreshingly vulnerable to paint the vivid picture of two partners torn apart by their differences. Alone, it may leave some a little cold, but The National are a traditionalist ‘albums band’. This isn’t a track to be cherry-picked – it’s an old- school Side A statement of intent. Sit enthralled from start to finish and this makes for a pretty mood-setter to all that follows.
Mmmmm, this is nice – like a warming calm to take the edge off of their bitter autumnal melancholy. Leaning on nuance and texture rather than cashing in and going all ‘stadium rock’ on us, ‘Demons’ is The National packed with that deep and textured powerful charm from their ‘Boxer’ days. It’s like having hot, electric honey drizzled over your soul. You know you want that.
Watch the video for 'Demons' below
'Don’t Swallow The Cap'
Subtlety is the order of the day as the slow build of 1980s motorik sounds and keys that underlie Bryan Devendorf’s trademark rumbling drums and the understated but artful guitar interplay of the Dessner twins create a sparse, restrained tension. Berninger’s vocal is the track’s centre of gravity as the climax tantrically takes an age to arrive, and then passes in a moment. What a tease.
More than a little reminiscent of ‘Guest Room’ from Boxer, ‘Fireproof’ is the album’s whiskey-breathed deep gasp for air before the ethanol kick really hits you.
'Sea Of Love'
Oof, there it is. “If I stay here trouble will find me, if I stay here I’ll never leave,” sighs Berninger in a moment of refrain before an almighty release. The National are a band with that ace knack of speedily meandering through the sweet melodies of REM, the haunting menace of Nick Cave and the frantic pace of bravado of The Pixies – find it all here in what will certainly become a peak in their live set.
Much like the latest Bad Seeds’ record, all of the instrumental elements of The National hang around like a loose fog as Berninger explores the higher reaches of his vocal range to some pretty tear-jerking orchestration. A real moment to get your lighters out to. Do people still do that?
'This Is The Last Time'
“Oh, when I lift you up you feel like a hundred times yourself – I wish everybody knew what’s so great about you,” runs the chorus, drenched in melancholic melody and cutting to the core of the essence of the album: running on romance and high on heartache. Buttery, velvet tones collide to perfect the art of the gradual but almighty crescendo.
Here it is: the true highlight of the album. Charged with that same frenetic spirit from ‘Lit Up’ and ‘Mr November’ and steeped in layer upon layer of dense but painstakingly considered sonic tapestry, this has ‘live set closer’ and ‘future National classic’ written throughout it like a thick stick of rock.
The intimate feel of Trouble Will Find Me is further heightened by the stark but stately thin veil of sound around the magnified tenderness of Berninger’s vocal: “I’m having trouble inside my skin, I’m trying to keep my skeletons in…I don’t need any help to be breakable, believe me.” Another moment of beauty, but perhaps lost amid the album’s much finer moments.
'I Need My Girl'
‘I Need My Girl’ continues the naked and meandering soundscape in a similar vein to moments like ‘Cardinal Song’ from ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ and the monumental stand-alone single ‘Think You Can Wait’ – but not quite as memorable.
Wuhey, that’s more like it. The slow rise of drums charges ‘Humiliation’ with an addictive tension as The National effortlessly reel off another sky-searching gem. Yet more crystal-cut Dessner guitar-mastery gives the track an interesting twist towards its close – like the final sprint at the end of a marathon.
Led only by piano, strings and rumbling drums, ‘Pink Rabbits’ leads Trouble Will Find Me towards a punch-drunk, swooning, reflective resolution: “I’m so surprised you want dance with me now, I was just getting used to living life without you around.” A true heart-in-mouth moment of loveliness, this – especially due to the laudable lyric: “I was the television version of a person with a broken heart” (expect to see it scrawled on indie kids’ notebooks and instagram shots throughout the summer).
'Hard To Find'
Another sparse and fragile ditty, ‘Hard To Find’ gently rocks the album to sleep before all of the elements of strings, horns and electronic beats return to see Trouble Will Find Me off to a sweeping close.
As if it shouldn’t have already passed, now is certainly the time to stop plotting the ascent of The National’s progression against that of REM. If there’s one thing that’s clear from Trouble Will Find Me, it’s that here is a band staunchly set on trudging their own path – and firmly cementing their status as the Greatest American Band of Our Generation in the process.
After the consecutive universal celebration of their last few records, now would have been the ideal time for The National to hit a home-run with their own ‘Automatic for the People’ – laden with Radio 2 hits and X Factor montage balladry.
What they’ve delivered instead is a record that progresses with an arc like all great albums should. If you skip your way through it on Spotify or your iPod then it’s magic will be lost. This is not an album for the iTunes generation, but it is a masterpiece for all of the right reasons. It’s just two sides of joyful noise. Long may the hyperbole continue: God Bless The National.