Years ago, when I was a younger and more misanthropic record store employee, a coworker of mine used to say that even the best bands in the world really only had 3 great albums in them, with very few exceptions. Or more likely he said something like “It’s Modest Mouse’s 5th album? Fuckin’ forget it.”
Trouble Will Find Me is The National’s 6th full-length release. Let me start by saying I love The National. I have threatened fellow writers Tyler Jacobson and Jake Ryan with physical violence in arguments over The National. I honestly believe Alligator and Boxer were 2 of the greatest albums of the last decade and “Mistaken For Strangers” might be one of the greatest rock songs ever written. But it seems that The National, like so many other bands before them, have aged out of their youthful angst and settled into a comfortable routine together. Which, appropriately, are some of the themes this album explores.
In “Demons,” Matt Berninger sings “I’m going through an awkward phase/I am secretly in love with/Everyone that I grew up with” invoking a wistfulness over lost youth and the adolescent relationships that shaped him. In “I Need My Girl,” he says “I know I was a lot of things…I can’t get my head around it/I keep feeling smaller and smaller,” as though he is looking back over his life.
These are themes so many artists have explored as they mature, which is something I can attest to even in my own writing. And Berninger is, at times, even brilliant in his own acknowledgement of this. In “Graceless,” he writes “Is there a powder to erase this?/Is it dissolvable and tasteless?/You can’t imagine how I hate this.” And there is something to be said for self-reflection, acknowledgement of regret, and uncertainty for the future.
Trouble does have moments of absolute genius. Bryan Devendorf’s always inventive drumming gives “Demons” a pulsing sense of immediacy. “Graceless” has an extremely catchy melody and even approaches a dance beat, making it a candidate for one of the break out hits on the album. But possibly the most beautiful track on Trouble is “Fireproof.” It is sparse with haunting minor guitar melodies and delicately swelling strings throughout. Perhaps this song best of all showcases Berninger’s heartbreaking baritone.
But, ultimately, much like High Violet before it, the album is somewhat lacking in the visceral energy of The National’s earlier work. Which, as I said before, is no real surprise for a 6th full-length release. To quote my friend Joe, it may be that The National is destined to become an NPR band from here on out. However, given that the band ends the album with the line “You can all just kiss off into the air,” to quote the Violent Femmes, it is unlikely they care a great deal what this writer thinks.
The National – “Demons”