Monday, January 14

The National Can't be Knocked Down

Artist: The National
Album: Boxer

Comments: I heard the hype surrounding Boxer long before I heard the actual album. Everywhere I looked, the album was showing up on year end top 10 lists. I figured with that kind of press, there had to be something to it. So I snagged myself a copy of Boxer, the second album by The National.

After many, many spins of this album, I can see what all the hype is about. Boxer is a hopeful record bursting at the seems with intelligent songwriting. Like many albums hitting the shelves today, it’s a reflection of our times. However, where some look out the window and see only doom and brimstone (cough El-P cough), through the eyes of the National, there is something to look forward to, something to hope for.

The strengths of the record lie in the lyrics and the way in which they are delivered. For example, take this line from “Apartment Story”: “let’s stay inside until somebody finds up / do whatever the TV tells us.” This is the kind of lyric that could, in the hands of a lesser songwriter, come off as cynical and self-important. Pessimism for pessimism’s sake.

However, on the honey-dipped, lounger singer voice of National vocalist Matt Berninger, it becomes a statement of hope and affection. It turns into a whispered prayer in the ear of lovers, a statement of how people can prevail when they stick together. It’s this kind of slice-of-life lyric, found throughout the whole album, that makes Boxer such an uplifting album.

But it’s not just a vocal show. Sure, there is some singing pretty on album opener “Fake Empires,” but it is the piano coda, steady and calm like a man walking his neighborhood at night, that establish the song’s power. It’s the gently pounding drums that give the song rise. It’s the trumpet blasts at the end, passive and insecure at first before gaining steam and announcing an arrival, which gives the listener a sense of possibility beyond current hopelessness.

It isn’t a perfect offering. Songs on Boxer do tend to run together on account of Berninger’s eternally soft and calm singing. He doesn’t change his voice much, and it is possible to just let it wash over you without taking anything in. And I’m not a fan of “Mistaken for Strangers ,” which plays like Interpol in the Catskills.

That being said, Boxer is an album that will definitely stick to the ribs. Casual listeners will be won over by the soft, passionate voice of Berninger, while audiophiles will be wooed by the piercing observational lyrics found throughout the album (not to give anything away, but Berninger talking about his friends drinking on “Green Gloves” is one of my favorite lyrics of ’07)

Tender and wounded, while maintaining an innocent hopefulness, The National’s Boxer is one album that is deserving of the hype.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Key Tracks: Fake Empires, Apartment Story, Gospel, Green Gloves

Buy, Steal, or Skip: Buy

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