Taking the Melancholy Road
When The National unveiled The Alligator in 2005, it was an album that gradually worked its way into the hearts of listeners with its paradoxical mix of joy and melancholy. Adding string and horn arrangements from collaborator Padma Newsome for 2007â€šÃ„Ã´s Boxer as well as focusing tonally on the latter, the bandâ€šÃ„Ã´s sound coalesces into something immediately beautiful and more hypnotic than before. Newsomeâ€šÃ„Ã´s lush, eerie horns and strings remain largely in the background. A smart choice since it lends a sublime unity that ties the album together. Even wiser is the choice to push Bryan Devendorfâ€šÃ„Ã´s drums to the fore on tracks like â€šÃ„ÃºSqualor Victoria,â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºMistaken For Strangersâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºBrainy.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Newsomâ€šÃ„Ã´s work is like blood fueling Devendorfâ€šÃ„Ã´s drums creating the pulse that brings Matt Berningerâ€šÃ„Ã´s remarkable baritone voice to life. Completing this atmosphere on Boxer are wearily canorous guitars from Matt’s brother Scott as well as Bryce Dessner.
Born from this is The National’s strongest album to date boasting several top- shelf songs. The somber “Fake Empire” opens the album with Berninger crooning about a couple spiriting into the night and possibly falling in love. The romantically confessional “Slow Show” sees its protagonist wittily tackling self doubt while humming “Everything I love gets lost in drawers” and later, “Can I get a minute of not being nervous / And not thinking of my dick.” On par with this are cuts like the rocking “Apartment Story,” the intimate and regretful “Ada” and the album’s beautiful denouement, “Gospel.”
The National could’ve fallen flat after an album like Alligator especially since, on the surface, Boxer could be dismissed as a continuation of That album. With astute choices, they take half of their 2005 album’s ideals and create almost twice the quality of album in 2007.