The National ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ – Review

9 Jun

The National have made the same type of album six times now, which makes consistency their calling card. But each one is full of little surprises and twists that makes every one an essential listen. The pattern is true to life; we go through the same routines every day and we spend Tuesday in much the same way we’ll spend Wednesday, which we’ll spend in much the same way as Thursday etc. It’s the little things in life that brighten our day and make life worth living. A bit of sunshine. Making a new friend. Having something nice for dinner. Alcohol. Not revolutions or revelations, just…little things. The National are very much a human band with very relatable quirks and emotions. It’s the little things that make them worth listening to. The National have always been dependable.

Listen to all their albums in a row and it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the next one starts, but listen to  ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ and then go back to their debut, and you can see the subtle evolution. The vocals are no longer mumbled or screamed, they are sung plainly and meaningfully. The songs are shorter and more refined. The drumming is less show-offy. The horn and orchestral arrangements are less obvious and more structurally ingrained. Many of the tunes, including the beautiful ‘Fireproof’, ‘Slipped’ and ‘Hard to Find’, are more sparse than we’re used to and they’re far more interesting than the too predictable ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Don’t Swallow the Cup’, which are more traditionally energetic.  The band have made just the right adjustments. It strikes me that this is their most direct album since ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ – which is relative, because The National at their most direct are still pretty evasive. But when Matt purrs ‘I need my girl’ and elongates his phrasing, there’s no ambiguity. And as he moans ‘when I walk into a room, I do not light it up… fuck’ you know exactly how he feels. The guy’s still fond of a pretty metaphor (my favourite: ‘I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’) but he throws in more concrete images to anchor down the songs. A former lover drinks ‘pink rabbits’ and if you want to see him cry just play ‘Let It Be or Nevermind’.

But this line could be a red Herring. Afterall, I don’t really know what’s in the cynical ‘Nevermind’ or cold-hearted ‘Let It Be’ to make you cry, which makes me think this is just one example of the band laying bread crumbs for eager fans to follow. Matt admitted in a recent interview with Paste that ‘a lot of the lyrics I write involve images that just swing the song in a way that feels really good to me and there isn’t a literal explanation.’ And yet these songs connect on a deep, emotional level, and they connect with a lot of people. As I said earlier, The National are human, relatable and dependable – this is why people love them. They also know how to have fun.

The songs pound, grind and build in a thrilling way any fan will be very familiar with. Many of the tunes also convey a sense of humour, something critics often ignore, favouring to concentrate on the more serious or boring aspects of the songs. Contained in that quote from the interview is an understanding that the band are aware of their reputation as sour faced  miserablists and they’re willing to have fun with that. The title is ‘Trouble Will Find Me’, which seems humourously self-aware. They are a band that concentrate on quite gloomy subjects but at least they know it and can laugh about it.

‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is not The National’s finest expression of sadness and regret; it’s not quite as forceful as ‘High Violet’, not quite as gut-wrenching as ‘The Boxer’, not quite as thrilling as ‘Alligator’, but it is a very nice addition to their stellar catalogue. If you were expecting them to jump the shark then you’ll be surprised (and glad) that they haven’t. I have to say, I was rather cynical about them being able to keep up the high quality – after all, they were still touring ‘High Violet’ a matter of months ago and in recent live performances the band seemed, frankly, tired and lagging. Of course, I should have known better. Yes, it’s a lot like their previous albums but, as I’ve said, it’s the little things that make this worthwhile and progressive. The National remain dependable.

8/10

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