I’ll be candid with you; High Violet was one of my favorite albums of 2010. If I could sit in a chair backwards to further prove my point with some straight-talk, I would. The National have been darlings of music critics for the last few years and I agree with them; which immediately makes me less fun to be around. High Violet is worth any praise it may have received; both music and lyrics are masterfully written and performed. Every song is an experience in and of itself.
A simple album can be great when executed correctly, as can a grand one. High Violet, rich with complexity, is the latter. “Terrible Love” crashes through the gate and feels more like an event than it does a song. Matt Berninger’s vocals in the bass register are infectious and I instantaneously wanted to know all the songs so I could sing along.1 In a group of bands with a similar sound (other parties include Interpol and the Editors), the National stand out the most to me.
What High Violet does best is what music should do: it makes you feel something. Every song taps into a different emotion. Some lyrics allow the listener to identify with the band; instead of commiserating with Berninger, I was sucked into his world. I felt his fear of raising a child in “Afraid of Anyone,” the awkwardness of returning home in “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” The mix of horns and Berninger’s stirring vocals in “Runaway” made me feel like I had just gone through a breakup even though I am happily married.2 At first listen, it may appear his voice is guarded against betraying a lot of emotion, but he shows plenty in every miniscule inflection of his voice.
Overall I am very pleased with their latest release. If one thing raises an eyebrow and presents a question to ask the band it would be: “Are you jumping on the zombie bandwagon in the song ‘Conversation 16?’ What did you mean by ‘I was afraid I’d eat your brains/because I’m evil?’” That one question aside, this album gets a lot of play. It almost deserves a sub-category of “if this were a tape, it would have been worn out” and into “good thing this didn’t come out when I was a teenager/college student because my friends would have gotten sick of me listening to it.” Back then, I certainly enjoyed subjecting myself and those around me with emotionally charged music. Why?
Because I’m evil.
1. Read any article about The National and someone will inevitably say something like: “Matt Berninger is this generation’s Leonard Cohen!” or “The National is our Joy Division!” Do we have to put them on a pedestal like that? Can’t they just be our National? Is it just that I’m lazy and I don’t want to have to keep track of all the classifications?
2. I can’t wait to be corrected by someone who read an interview revealing the song was written about a band member adopting a cat.