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The National makes a melancholic comeback in 9th studio album

The National makes a melancholic comeback in 9th studio album

The National makes a melancholic comeback in 9th studio album
May 04
14:00 2023

New York-based indie rock group The National made their full-length return with new album “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” on April 28. Their first album release since 2019, “Frankenstein,” displays band-wide growth beyond their grungier ‘00s beginnings.

The 11-track project takes the group’s classic somberness and filters it through a softer, more mature lens fit for their growing, yet aging, fanbase.

Opening track “Once Upon a Poolside” sets the project’s somber mood with a mopey piano measure. Paired alongside lead singer Matt Berninger’s trademark sad-sack tone, the song explores being in the spotlit center of attention while in the depths of depression. Soft choruses paired with the backing vocals of fellow wistful artist Sufjan Stevens prepare listeners for the sorrowful storylines scattered across “Frankenstein.”

Moving into the second track, “Eucalyptus,” audiences are launched into the narrative of an unhappy, broken couple — a fictional storyline often explored by Berlinger and fellow composers, twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner. Crafted from the perspective of a desperate man in the throes of a post-breakup separation, the song presents a narrator refusing to keep any physical reminders of what was once shared between him and his partner. The chorus, “You should take it, ‘cause I’m not gonna take it,” displays an almost juvenile refusal to accept the couple’s new realities while looking directly into the abyss of their past.

By contrast, the single “New Order T-shirt” depicts a man grasping at the fading memories of his former relationship. A more realistic look into a couple’s past, the narrator is only able to conjure up sparse images of what once was: the pair’s trips to the aquarium, his partner’s pair of black flats and the way they looked relaxing in a bath. Although fragmented, each reminder is cemented into his memory.

Through the track, Aaron and Berninger craft one of the best examples of the band’s nostalgic yet evolved image. Stylistically simple lines like “I keep what I can of you” deliver a National classic gut punch. At the same time, the song also provides a sense of mature comfort. Listeners are shown that pain connected to the past isn’t something bad — it’s simply a part of natural human growth.

While the first several tracks of the album display The National’s individual voice, the latter half is carried by more collaborative numbers. The band welcomes back old friends Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers to share their lyrical misery. The familiar vocal pairings bring back even more past The National releases while also displaying a sense of growth between the artists’ creative relationships.

“The Alcott,” featuring Swift, is about a former couple with a long history attempting to return and relive their abandoned connection. The pair’s alternating perspectives are reminiscent of their 2020 collaboration, “coney island,” which similarly depicts a failed romance neither can seem to fully leave behind. The ballad inserts a delicate lightness into the lead-footed album that is reflective of the hopefulness of a possible rekindling.

Bridgers’ second “Frankenstein” feature, “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend,” is one of the album’s darkest and most personal pieces. The track, which explores Berninger’s history with mental illness, was written after the artist was inspired after reading the first two pages of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” hence the album’s name. In the depths of a depression-fueled period of writer’s block, Berninger said he was suddenly inspired by the image of being adrift and disconnected.

The light, comforting vocals featured from Bridgers in the song’s chorus seemingly help keep Berninger afloat throughout the track’s wave-like composition. A contrasting heaviness is found in Berninger’s own personal lyrics. like the hard-hitting “You inherited a fortune / From your mother’s side / Your sister didn’t get it at all / She survived.” The song offers an intimate look into both recent and lifelong struggles of The National’s frontman but also acts as a comforting reminder that such struggles are not entirely individual.

“Frankenstein” has its fair share of artful tracks, but still isn’t without its flaws. Although structured under similar themes, the lyrical composition of mid-album tracks like “Tropic Morning News” and “Alien” doesn’t reach the same poetic standards as “Frankenstein”’s knockouts. Others like “Grease in Your Hair” and “Ice Machines” are enjoyable on their own but become similarly overlooked due to their latter placements in the album.

Before leaving audiences in the depths of their own despair, Berninger ends on a surprisingly hopeful note. “Send For Me” closes “Frankenstein”’s journey with the reminder that not all emotional attachments end in heartbreak but rather love and support. The culminating sense of completeness illustrates a sort of coming-of-age story as told from a middle-aged perspective.

“Frankenstein”’s overall artistry shows the group’s three-year gap was indeed worth the wait, as not a single moment or mid-life crisis went to waste.

Samantha’s rating: 3.5/5

Featured Illustration by Allie Garza

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Samantha Thornfelt

Samantha Thornfelt

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