The National: Trouble Will Find Me review

April 8, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Album Reviews, Music

The National’s previous album, 2010’s High Violet, saw the band make the transition from cult heroes to the mainstream without sacrificing any of their credibility or idiosyncratic charm. Make no mistake, they are now a big band; they’ve performed at the White House for President Obama, headlined Latitude Festival, and even contributed a song to the Game of Thrones soundtrack. Three years on and they are back with yet another beautifully crafted collection of songs. From the opening chords of ‘I Should Live in Salt’ right through to the gentle sway of closing ballad ‘Hard to Find’, this is a record that immediately grabs your heartstrings and refuses to let go.

Despite leading the band’s charge up festival bills, singer Matt Berninger still seems racked with self-doubt and anxiety. Renowned for his intense, red wine-fuelled live performances (check out ‘Mr November’ from Glastonbury 2010, where he basically collapses/falls over at the end), he often comes across as a man uncomfortable in the spotlight. However, his rich baritone has never sounded better than on Trouble…, particularly on the more fragile tracks such as ‘Heavenfaced’, the album’s emotional centrepiece. He doesn’t hold anything back in his highly-personal lyrics, dissecting his insecurities on ‘Demons’ (“When I walk into a room I do not light it up…F**K!”) and his difficult love life on the majestic ‘Pink Rabbits’ (“You didn’t see me I was falling apart, I was a television version of a person with a broken heart”). With so much raw emotion in his voice, you get the feeling Berninger could croon the ‘Rush Hour Crush’ section from the Metro and its sheer beauty would reduce grown men to tears.

Elsewhere, twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner create intricate arrangements that gently build to huge finales without ever slipping into over-sentimental Snow Patrol/stadium rock territory, and each track is driven on by Bryan Devendorf, who further cements his reputation as one of the most innovative rock drummers of the 21st century. With the whole band on top form, there’s also an impressive cast of guest stars present, including Sharon Van Etten, Sufjan Stevens and Richard Reed Parry. Reed Parry’s day job is as a multi-instrumentalist with Arcade Fire, who may well be one the few household-name modern rock bands that you could justifiably class as contemporaries of The National.

Detractors (absolute fools) may be quick to dismiss them as ‘gloomy’ and ‘miserable’, perhaps even ‘boring’, but that is to completely miss the point of The National. Their music can break heart, but can just as easily put it back together again. At times complex, at times simple, each of these songs merits repeated listens, and as a body of work this is without doubt the best album of 2013 so far. I bloody love The National.

Rating: 9/10

Key tracks: ‘I Should Live in Salt’, ‘Sea of Love’, ‘Heavenfaced’, ‘Pink Rabbits’