The National - High Violet

by Dan Clay Rating:9 Release Date:2010-05-10

It's no secret that Brooklyn's The National have produced two of the stand out albums of the last decade in Alligator and Boxer so where will new release High Violet rank in this decade? Pretty highly probably.

Whereas Boxer gave us tales of middle-aged disappointment from youthful expectations, singer and lyricist Matt Berninger describes High Violet as the next stage in a man's life - that of working out what makes him happy.

Odd then that the album should start on it's only bum note. Opener 'Terrible Love' - a live favourite - is over produced and messy, a stark contrast to Boxer's terrific 'Fake Empire'. Thankfully, from then on it's pure gold. 'Sorrow' builds to a now trademark rousing finale, while 'Anyone's Ghost' and 'Little Faith' are molded in Boxer's lush image. It's a solid comeback and a great first third.

Where High Violet really excels though is in it's middle section. 'Afraid of Everyone' builds around a haunting backing vocal which soars through the air while 'Bloodbuzz Ohio', the first single, shows off Bryan Devendorf's inventive drumming. Suddenly we're moving into "classic" territory, confirmed by the album's following two finest songs.

'Lemonworld', apparently regarded by the band as the ugliest, least-polished song on the record is actually it's most memorable. "You and your sister live in a lemonworld/I want to sit in and die," sings Berninger over a gently strumming guitar and stomping drum beat. "Runaway" continues the high standard; a beautifully sung ballad over a gentle acoustic backing.

The final third continues the quality. 'Conversation 16' highlights the band's rockier side and "England" will no doubt have every ad company fighting for its melody. Similar to Coldplay's 'Clocks' a looping piano builds to produce an almost anthemic final chant, "Afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners." You'll be singing it for days and then wondering why they chose 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks' to close the record. As nice as it is with its melodic waltz rhythm it seems out of place in the listing here.

All of which means that the opener aside, The National have produced another masterpiece. Five albums in, three classics under their belt, that's a healthy ratio. If you've yet to discover them then maybe now's the time to make The National your anthem.

Dan Clay

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