The National – Boxer

The National – Boxer
Beggars Banquet – 4 Stars

The splash page on, home page of Brooklyn’s the National, features a rather candid black and white picture of the band and several friends in front of a building in what appears to be New York.  The picture is a bit grainy, a bit out of focus.  Were it not in black and white it would be no different from any picture you’ve ever taken in your life.  But the slight change in perspective lends the photo a dark, nostalgic feel.  The people in the picture look sad or resigned.  Even those who are smiling feel lost in the past.  This photograph may perfectly sum up Boxer, the National’s new release on Beggars Banquet.
Singer Matt Berninger recalls Leonard Cohen with his droning monotone, his band behind him adding only the necessary delicate touches to the storytelling.  We meet a “ruffian” who has given up the street life in order to climb the corporate ladder; we meet men too afraid to follow their heart.  Nearly all of the protagonists of these songs have fallen into mundane lives, ambiguous even to themselves.  There is a deep fear of growing up that flows throughout Boxer. This is perhaps most notable in the aforementioned “Mistaken for Strangers,” whose blue-blazered office worker is loathed by angels who don’t want to watch “another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults.”  It is notable, though, that this is not mere punk rockery; Berninger is not thumbing his nose at the adults so much as he is mourning the loss of individuality in the hands of those who sell out their dreams.  This mature critique – particularly when coupled with such developed music – helps the National to avoid the immature pratfalls that may beguile a less competent group.  Perhaps Boxer’s theme isn’t an anti-corporate world screed as it is a lament for those who do not follow their heart.  The record’s best track, “Slow Show,” paces nervously as it describes a man who has dreamed of his woman for twenty-nine years.  He will never follow through.
Of course, good lyrics and gentle treatment would be meaningless if there was nothing to back it up.  The band’s quiet, tasteful sound is a perfect match to Berninger’s lyrics and sober delivery.  Not one note is wasted, not one song feels chaotic.  Even when the fuzz bass enters “Apartment Story,” it is gently massaged out with warm keys.  This is perfectly controlled and composed music that describes lives that are far from ordered, a tender treatment of big-city paranoia and fear.

One Response to “The National – Boxer”
  1. johnlrobbie says:

    The most amazing band! I love this album!

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