Five points on The National's 'Trouble Will Find Me'
Posted on Tuesday, 16 April 2013 | No Comments
So, lucky unpaid volunteer scribbler that I am, the good folk of NARC Magazine hooked me up with a stream of The National's new sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, out next month. I'll be saving a proper review for publication in next month's NARC, but until then, here's a little preview of the record, arranged in a fairly arbitrary list format because apparently that's the only thing you ADHD types can get through these days, and it's all about those pointless 'hits', or something.
1) Expecting High Violet II? Well, not quite...
The National have always been a band that's evolved by degrees, rather than making any major evolutionary jump. They've got a signature sound that they have fun inside, and for any fan of the group, the subtle tinkering and tonal changes between each record - compare the more cynical, angsty Alligator with the more mature orchestral mood pervading Boxer. But given that the more overtly rock, arena ready High Violet took the band to a whole new level of success, the fear might be that they could trip over the balance they managed on that record between bombast and intimacy and fall over into the latter. Well, that really isn't the case. The production values make it evident that there's a fair bit more cash to play with these days, but in songwriting term, this is definetely a more subtle and reflective offering.
2) ...in fact, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers II might be nearer the mark
Although it's the one where The National sound really starts to click, and boasts several of their finest songs - the gorgeous opening epic Cardinal Song and the raging Available remain in the live set to this day - Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers has never had the reputation of the records they'd put out subsequently. It's a surpise (and by no means an unwelcome one) then to see them reclaiming some of the alt-country turf they trod on that record this time around. When it gets to the album's more sedate, ballad-heavy second half, the likes of Slipped and I Need My Girl definetely bear the Wilco-esque DNA of their Sad Songs era sound. Coming from an older band, it's a sound that arguably fits the band better now than it did then.
3) Yes, Demons is a totally bizzare choice of lead track
A few people out there seem to have been worried by the fact that the first track we heard from Trouble Will Find Me, Demons, was far from the kind of knock-out blow of Boxer's lead-in Mistaken For Strangers or High Violet's Bloodbuzz Ohio. Time signature fun aside, it did seem to get perilously close to auto-pilot. Be assured then: it's certainly far from the strongest thing on here, and thankfully does work a lot better as part of the album sequence. Let's just pretend that 4AD cut to the chase and went straight for the absolutely lovely Don't Swallow the Cap then, eh?
4) No obvious crossover hit, but might This Is The Last Time do it in disguise?
The notion of The National as the new R.E.M. has gained a lot of ground in indie circles, and it's not hard to see why: they're both acts who have slowly crawled their way to fame the hard way - long tours, independent labels and some truly fantastic records. While The National may not have been as pioneering as R.E.M., it's also worth noting that both bands, without being particularly outré, forged distinctive and hard to replicate sonic footprints and boast hugely charismatic frontmen and lyricists. In this analogy then, Trouble Will Find Me equates to Green/Out Of Time - i.e. when global domination beckons. Given that they're already on the verge of the arena circuit, The National are certainly plenty popular right now, but they've somehow done that without any big distinctive 'hit'. There's nothing on here that immediately smacks of a pop breakthrough (if any track of theirs was going to be their anthem, it was surely going to be High Violet's England, and that never even made it to single status), but. This Is The Last Time is the album's big centerpiece, a slow-burner that starts from muted chords before reaching a sweeping orchestral coda - it's melodically rich, emotionally affecting and perfectly composed in that way National ballads always are. If there is to be a big hit from this album, I'm going to place a bet on this one doing this business.
5) Most importantly of all...
While Trouble Will Find Me is unlikely to change the mind of anyone who actively dislikes them, if you like The National, you'll like this album. The winning streak isn't over yet.