Trouble Will Find Me... Plays it safe
Review: The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Published on May 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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The sound made by The National might best be described as “graceful”, perhaps even “stately”. Despite operating under one of the dullest band names you might conceive of in a hypothetical game of Who Can Think Up the Dullest Band Name?, the Cincinnati quintet have built up a considerable army of dedicated followers over the course of their five previous studio albums, each one statelier and more graceful than the last. Their sixth LP Trouble Will Find Me should go down well with the existing fan base, which is indicative of the lack of surprises on offer.
Basically, when typically cinematic opener “I Should Live in Salt” gently chastises “…you should know me better than that” after a variety of commands, requests and statements, it’s hard not to ponder how well we do in fact know The National by now. Matt Berninger’s weathered baritone and metaphor-loaded lyrics remain satisfying if not enthralling, ditto the elegant instrumentation of the various Dessners and Devendorfs; as such, there’s no little substance to their style but it still winds up sounding a little too calculated.
Predictability is regularly staved off by slightly askew melodic layouts – very clever they are, too, Berninger proving himself wonderfully adept at arranging his words into counterintuitive patterns – but the relentless purity of the production and arrangements can sap the interest levels. “Wish that I could rise above it” Berninger sings on “Demons” and his surroundings are indeed granted temporary elevation by a fluttery, “Eleanor Rigby” sort of string section. However, such characterful embellishments – the harmonies, climactic dynamic and relatively rumbling gait of “Fireproof”, for instance – feel all too rare.
You may have noticed the proliferation of negative conjunctions (‘but’, ‘however’) in this review thus far: this, we feel, reflects the ever-present notion of ‘something missing’ that tarnishes the otherwise presentable Trouble Will Find Me. It’s good ‘alternative rock’ for sensitive souls with a literate streak, done up all nice like in its swathes of studio reverb and noteworthy lyrical flourishes such as “I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls at the bar” from “Pink Rabbits”, or “Tiny bubbles hang above me / It’s a sign that someone loves me” from “Don’t Swallow”.
Berninger has a Guy Garvey-esque knack for affecting one-liners, so it’s easy to understand why they’re so widely cherished. Unfortunately, The National fall short of Elbow’s beauty, while there are only so many lyrics about crying, drinking and not understanding that Rocksucker can take in one sitting. Trouble Will Find Me is another grand portrait but the eventfulness implied by its title fails to materialise.
Rocksucker says: Two and a Half Quails out of Five!
Trouble Will Find Me is out now on 4AD.
For more information, please visit The National’s official website.