The National's Sleep Well Beast highlights their winning melancholic formula
- David Pollock
- 7 September 2017
This article is from 2017.
Fan, and dads, will appreciate the band's seventh album
Dads of the Western world rejoice; no sooner have LCD Soundsystem dropped a new record upon the population than fellow Brooklynite latte-guzzlers The National are back with a righteous new selection of 21st century rock songs. They even have a track on their seventh album called 'Turtleneck', a song which pays obtuse tribute to the distinctively middle-aged clothing item through the medium of itchy-footed dustbowl rock guitar in the style of mid-period Oasis, abetted by Matt Berninger's gruff, Nick Cave-esque vocal exhortation to a mother to 'let your daughter dance with me'.
In describing the follow-up to 2013's frankly mighty Trouble Will Find Me, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that it's 2017's acme of Sensitive White Guy Rock, from the above-mentioned – and atypical – meaty rocker to the winsome, piano-led delicacy of opener 'Nobody Else Will Be There' and the galloping, U2-aping epic 'Day I Die' ('the day I die / where will we be?' speculates the chorus, cheerily). This is a band which has more feeling-sorry-for-itself than a bucketful of Drakes, and yet there's something in Berninger's voice and in the chilly, austere sparsity of their best songs which remains stoically transcendent.
There's no doubt Sleep Well Beast is a grower, rather than a record which snares you with its hooks immediately, and 'Walk It Back' – a regretful walk in the rain with a minimal electronic bed and an almost spoken lyric which reminds oddly of Arab Strap – and the simple, hymnal lead single 'The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness' reward listen after listen. The latter stages of the record bear a soft, almost meditative quality, whether built upon the electronic composition of 'I'll Still Destroy You', 'Guilty Party' and the title track, or the mournful piano balladry of 'Carin at the Liquor Store'.
There are moments here where the band seem to play up to their Dadrock sonic style a little too willingly, but the purity and personal nature of their vision wins out again, building a deeply internalised vision of a faltering relationship ('It's nobody's fault / no guilty party / I've just got nothing left to say,' mourns 'Guilty Party'; 'blame it all on me / I really don't care / it's a foregone conclusion,' sighs 'Carin at the Liquor Store') which blocks out the world around it to catalogue a particularly exhausted sense of pain. That's not always a thrilling listen, but it's one which will once more captivate anyone – regardless of age or sex – who loves this band.
Sleep Well Beast by The National is out Fri 8 Sep via 4AD.