The State of The National

Actors and Actresses are often told, in order to cry, to think of something heart wrenching: a death of a loved one, loss of pet, a deep dark childhood memory. Now, thespians everywhere should add The National’s newest album, High Violet, to their repertoire of sob inducing triggers. Matt Berninger may be one of the few song writers with the capability to make Conor Oberst look like he sings the theme from Happy Days. In the album’s second song, Sorrow, he proclaims, “Sorrow…it’s in my honey. It’s in my milk…the girl in my cake. It’s only my hyper heart, alone.”. Berninger takes sadness to Biblical levels; invoking reference of milk and honey, distinctly related to oasis reference in the Old Testament. Yet, this is not your run of the mill sad, youthful angst. This is seasoned melancholy. At 39 he touts that love is nothing if not complicated.
Berninger’s lilts are hypnotic and pull you in. Where others say, “Sit. Let me tell you how awful life can be.” and you recoil; The National make you want to pull up a seat and hear all about it. The album echoes Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”. Even in the good times there’s a looming sadness, an unachieved joy, and the knowledge that all things come to an end. In his happiest song, “Blood Buzz Ohio” he declares,in beautiful imagery, “I stand up straight at the foot of your love.” – this, the only inclination we’re given that this song is joyful along with the assumption that a blood buzz is a good thing. In a second attempt to express a desire for beauty and peace he says, “you and your sister live in a lemon world I want sit in and die.”. He longs for shining optimism if only to parish in it or,rather, solely to parish in.
The National is a beautiful composition of a steadiness. Drums march along with keys that are both simplistic and epic in a way that’s indicative of some never ending quest. This couldn’t be better matched with Berninger’s unwavering voice that screams internally, but never outwardly, of desperation and control. His pitch is a low, even keel. He nearly speaks the words out in a way so understated that it’s overwhelming.
If regarding an album as morose is a discredit to it, then I could see how one might view this as a scathing review, but to the contrary, I think we all need The National at some point. When we do, I call it a National state. This is one in which you need to reflect in a greater existential way, or need to just “be”. I listened and dwell. I feel there’s a understanding that life and love are very much the way Berninger portrays them and that’s a reality worth experiencing.

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