the national the national
  • WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 04, 2010

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From the sudden, jarring awareness of adulthood on Alligator to the reluctant acceptance on "High Violet", the National's discography plays out a little like a coming-of-age story, for adults, and the band itself has undergone a similarly pronounced evolution. In 2001, reviews of the self-titled debut album consisted largely of unfavorable comparisons to Silver Jews, while today their music has become almost synonymous with adult rock, at least within the indie scene. This Summer, Brassland Records will be releasing their first major vinyl pressing of the National's self titled first album, providing an opportunity for fans of Alligator, Boxer and High Violet to better understand the band's progression.

On the opening track of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, Matt Berninger sings, "Never tell the one you want that you do / Save it for the deathbed / When you know you kept her wanting you," wisdom just as applicable to song writing as it is to relationship. Too much honesty can backfire, especially with material as openly sentimental as "The Perfect Song" and "Watching You Well". Throughout the band's more recent albums, emotion has been conveyed with a tasteful degree of subtlety, an art which the band had only begun to hone on The National. Consequently, when Berninger expresses a character's frustration with the professional world in "Theory Of The Crows", the line "Pouring my fingers across the keys / Will someone review my salary please?" feels more than a little bit tacky compared to the more elegant delivery on "Mistaken For Strangers", "You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends / When you pass them at night / Under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights", from Boxer.

Musically, The National sounds more raw than anything the band has since released, a quality which may endear some listeners, particularly on "29 Years", a lo-fi track which would eventually share its lyrics with "Slow Show". The song might have been better placed at the end of the album, instead of second to last, and the melody still needs work at this point, but there's something rewarding about hearing the song develop. Perhaps more interesting still is the heavy country influence in "Pay For Me" and "Watching You Well." By Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, the band already began to swap the relatively stripped down arrangement for a richer (and recently, muddier) sound. Bryan Devendorf distinguishes himself on the drums in "Son", and "John's Star", where the song does not downplay his role.

As an introduction to the National, the self titled album might not be ideal. Years of hard work have resulted in some much tighter albums from the Ohio quintet, but in no way do I mean this to discredit the band. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the album stands as a testament to what potential can become when properly utilized. For a record collection already containing any of the National's work, the debut would make a fine addition. -derrick weist

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