Mistaken for Strangers – The National (2007, Beggars Banque Records)
‘Boxer’ was a record that I bought on impulse after reading a review of it in a magazine. The author wrote about the songs on the album and how they resonated with her. She was in a miserable relationship with an older man who she had outgrown and she had barely spoke to him in months. She was scared to leave him because she thought her parents would be disappointed with her. She made the songs, the singing voice of Matt Berninger, the way the music flowed over it all sound so utterly marvellous that you couldn’t help but want to hear it. So I went out and bought it and haven’t regretting it for one second.
It was my first introduction to The National and one that I am eternally grateful for, I mean sure I would have heard them somewhere else and sure I would have read other reviews of their other records, but as someone who has tried and (largely) failed to carve a career out of writing about music, that review was outstanding and exactly the sort of thing that a journalist should be writing. I used to dream about writing reviews that are so captivating that someone will buy a record just because of what I have written about it.
Anyway, let’s talk about the actual album, ‘Boxer’ is a rather grand record. It kicks off with ‘Fake Empire’ which is swept in by a simple piano riff and crowned a few minutes later at its crescendo with a brass fanfare that feels gently triumphant.
Fake Empire – The National (2007, Beggars Banquet)
That triumphant feel remains throughout the album and for the most part is actually amplified across the album by its music rather than Matt Berninger’s trademark baritone, which whilst exceptional, is often a little bit refrained. An example is in ‘Apartment Story’ which is utterly absorbing, Matt’s vocals are perhaps deliberately hushed, especially when the backing vocals join him. What’s not hushed is the guitar riff that floods the song and the simple piano that accompanies it.
Apartment Story – The National (2007, Beggars Banquet Records)
Despite the triumphant feel (and I’m toying with replacing ‘triumphant’ with ‘confident’) there is still a theme of loss and tragedy running through the album, certainly in its excellent middle section. That starts in ‘Apartment Story’, runs through ‘Slow Songs’ and then reaches its zenith with ‘Start A War’ where loss or a breakup I would imagine, is pretty much the only thing on the agenda “Walk away now and you’re gonna start a war”, Matt sings as an uncomfortably claustrophobic rhythm settles in.
Start A War – The National (2007, Beggars Banquet Records)
For me the standout track comes close to the end, track 11, ‘Ada’. Which kind of emphasises the whole music thing. The piano (played by Sufjan Stevens) on here is as perfect as a piano can be, the brass, all solemn and church like, is perfect, the crash of guitars at around the three minute mark is perfect and deliberately overpowers Matt’s repeated ‘Ada’ mantra which is relegated to the background. It’s a brilliant song.
Ada – The National (2007, Beggars Banquet Records)
I can’t remember the name of the journalist who that original review of ‘Boxer’ but if you are on the off chance, reading this, thank you.
Oh and as its New Years Eve, we’d better have a blast of this.