The Heckler

The National: Sleep Well Beast

9 September 2017

9:00 AM

9 September 2017

9:00 AM

Grade: A–

There are plenty of websites where fans try to discern, without any success, what in the name of Christ The National are actually singing about. Thousands of words have been expended on just one — rather lovely — song, ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, from the album High Violet. The answer is, they’re more often than not singing about nothing. They’re just nice words that sound good next to each other. It’s euphonious gibberish.


The Cincinnati boys are back doing the same stuff with their first album in four years. The lead single is entitled ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’, which may be the most pretentious and pompous name for a pop song I’ve ever heard — and I remember Yes only too well. And yet it is reliably exquisite; slow, complex, mournful melody, swathed in lush synths, punctuated by a jagged guitar riff and then the vaulted leap to a swirling chorus. It’s great.

Most of the rest follows suit, with a bit more electronics poking their nose in where they’re not, in my opinion, wanted — hell, they even meddle with trip-hop. But the melodies, especially on ‘Day I Die’ and ‘Guilty Party’, are effortlessly memorable, rooted in minor keys and always imploring you to go back and listen one more time, and then one more time again. Only on one song, ‘Turtleneck’, does singer Matt Berninger cut loose and let you know what he’s really thinking. And you kinda wish he hadn’t — it’s a howled tirade about Trump, natch. Keep it enigmatic, Matthew. That’s how we like it.

How to describe them? In oxymorons. Subtle stadium rock, trad prog.

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