The National - Boxer (Live in Brussels) - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The National - Boxer (Live in Brussels)

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2018-06-22
The National - Boxer (Live in Brussels)
The National - Boxer (Live in Brussels)

In spite of a strong catalog, certainly including last year’s Sleep Well Beast, you would be hard pressed to challenge any fan that argued for 2007’s Boxer being The National’s best album.  It was frankly Boxer that first caught my attention over a decade ago as a seamless whole - cryptically displaced lyrics, classically understated arrangements, and Matt Berninger’s perfectly smoky, mumbled baritone.  I raptly listened to the album repeatedly over the next several years, assuming the band was from a dreary, rainy corner of some exotic foreign land, say England.  Dreary and rainy may be right, but their sound certainly didn’t sound like they hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio.  

What I think is often missed with Boxer is just how sturdy the songs actually are.  There are strong bones underlying every song and propulsive, if not explosive, passages are prevalent.  Having seen the band last month and with ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Slow Show’ on the set list, I assumed they had pumped things up a bit as their fame has risen.  Horns and Bryan Devendorf’s pummeling drums closing out ‘Empire’?  But going back and listening to the album that is all there.  I would have never described the album as energetic as it was defeatist, but see those buried veins now.

So there may be a bit more bombast ten years on playing to 8,000 Belgian fans in what might have been another dreary and rainy night, but Boxer (Live in Belgium) succeeds because the songs were built to endure from the beginning.  With the benefit of a few more shekels than their earlier days, there is a bigger band in tow and some of the songs that are slow to simmer on the original do get to more sizzle by the end (see ‘Squalor Victoria’).  But the songs themselves are still amazing and the same literary lyrical snippets that slayed me back then do the same here:

“put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us”

“showered and blue-blazered”

“raise our heavenly glasses to the heavens”

“standing at the punch table, swallowing punch”

“they’re gonna send us to prison for jerks”

I’m sure we all have our own tracks we hold dear and the live version of the album isn’t going to change your mind on your favorite tracks (that should be all of them by the way).  ‘Green Gloves’ and ‘Start A War’ do stand out for the band showing more restraint compared to the other tracks.  And Berninger does get a few snippets in about misunderstood lyrics and leaves no misunderstanding about getting a hug from Michelle Obama.  The studio take of the album certainly remains the definitive version, but this is more than worthwhile.  The Brussels crowd was treated to the full album unannounced as recompense for a rescheduled show along with a dozen other songs following these.  The band did the same at their Cincinnati Homecoming set a few months later.  Oh to have been there at either of those.  Boxer (Live in Brussels) serves as a document of a momentous album a decade on and shows the band is still racing like a pro - even now.

Note:  The album is being released now digitally and on CD after its Record Store Day vinyl release earlier this year.


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