The National “High Violet”

Beggars Banquet 2010

I realize this is coming a bit late, but I have reasons for waiting to discuss “High Violet” with anyone in any way. One big reason is sometimes, I have the tendency to spout things off without thinking and regret it later, and I really didn’t want to say anything like that about this record because—and this is the second reason—I really like The National. As far as mainstream-ish music goes, they might be the only band I really love or appreciate enough to think that anything they put out deserves a fair chance.

A third reason is it took me a little while to fall in love with The National’s previous two albums, “Boxer” and “Alligator”. Knowing how I feel about them now, I figured it would be a similar story with “High Violet”—and it was. However, “High Violet” is a different kind of beast. It strays even further from the more rock-oriented “Alligator” and enriches the dark, morose tones of “Boxer” without dragging everything down too much. It’s impressive to me when a band can put out three albums back to back that are at once individual statements yet also help to define the band as a whole.

The fourth and perhaps most crippling reason (as far as actually getting myself to sit down and write something) is that “High Violet” was the album I was listening to the most this last summer when my mother passed away. Every day, I would drive to and from the hospice house listening to it. I mean, I listened to other stuff too, but I actually had a CD of this (!!!!!!!) in my player so it always just popped on when I would turn on the car. And it was my soundtrack to driving around my old hometown and taking in how much it had changed and how much I had changed and how much everything around me was going to just keep changing. I read somewhere recently that this album “would not be a good soundtrack to your lottery win”, but it sure worked for me this summer.

The first couple times I listened to “High Violet”, it didn’t really seem like any of the songs were doing anything. They all have such subtle hooks that some would argue there are no hooks at all. I beg to differ, though—these guys obviously know the meaning of and have appreciation for the pop hook, they’re just too cool to let anyone know it. Big, flashy hooks aren’t cool in music right now, and The National find a good balance as far as that goes. The first track, “Terrible Love”, seems so simple and uneventful on the surface, but the more you listen to it and dissect it, the more it becomes a fucking behemoth of an opening track. That two-note lead guitar line is pretty much a microcosm of the whole less-is-more philosophy this band puts to use so well.

My favorite song on the record is “England”, and it’s the second-to-last track. I think that’s a ballsy move, because that is usually a spot saved for the lesser songs. But this song is so good that it’s placing in the sequence helps to take the whole “High Violet” experience up a notch. “You must be lovin’ your life in the rain,” Berninger sings, as the song slowly builds into the album’s pummeling climax. It takes a lot of songs to get to it—a lot of songs that seem kind of blah in comparison for a little while—but “High Violet” is an album that yields sweet rewards over time. ****

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