Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The National

  • Cherry Tree [Brassland, 2004] Dud
  • Alligator [Beggars Banquet, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Boxer [Beggars Banquet, 2007] ***
  • High Violet [4AD, 2010] A-
  • Trouble Will Find Me [4AD, 2013] ***
  • Sleep Well Beast [4AD, 2017] A-
  • I Am Easy to Find [4AD, 2019] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Cherry Tree [Brassland, 2004] Dud

Alligator [Beggars Banquet, 2005]
"Abel" Choice Cuts

Boxer [Beggars Banquet, 2007]
Love in the time of fake empire ("Fake Empire," "Mistaken for Strangers"). ***

High Violet [4AD, 2010]
I understand why the desolate love songs come first--in Matt Berninger's world, desolate love is pop fare. But what perks me up is three straight laments for middle management. "Stuck in New York with the rain coming down," "I try/Not to hurt anyone I like," but "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe." Then it's back to desolate love, only contextualized. Literary lights write novels about such stuff now, right? Why do I doubt there's one with as much emotional impact, not to mention compression? That's why we prefer music. What a bummer--yet what a thriller. A-

Trouble Will Find Me [4AD, 2013]
Even after loss transmutes into pain sweet pain, it has a way of reverting to the same old same old ("I Should Live in Salt," "Don't Swallow the Cap") ***

Sleep Well Beast [4AD, 2017]
Matt Berninger's depressive tendencies have always been shticky--probably sincere enough, whatever that means or matters, but a stance for sale regardless. Yet as he murmurs through the quietest and most lyrical of the band's albums, I often find myself touched, moved, even sorry for him. From the stairwell tryst at the outset to the matched pledges of devotion and destruction that bring proceedings to a close, the amassed detail of the settings and feelings doesn't so much eliminate shtick as transcend it. One thing, though. Not to be a prig or a scold, but insofar as the details are autobiographical, maybe somebody should quit drinking. A-

I Am Easy to Find [4AD, 2019]
I was pleased and surprised to enjoy the 23-minute YouTube-available Mike Mills film of the same name, a kind, imagistic birth-to-death biography of a white middle-class working mother that's intertwined somehow with the making of the band's eighth album. But the film has only one explicit connection to the album that occasionally pokes through its surface: it's about a woman. Hence women often make themselves heard, and their voices transform how the music sounds, feels, and signifies. Matt Berninger's love/relationship songs have often had some tenderness to them, and he's gotten more relaxed about it over the years. But here almost every track is open to substantive female input on a musical whole that feels consistently interactive and empathetic and also not so glum--even when you can't pin down exact meanings, it makes love sound possible. Inconveniently, the almost entirely female "So Far So Fast" is the one track that goes nowhere, and for 6:37 at that. Then again, "Not in Kansas," the 6:45 autobiography-with-(female)-Greek chorus just before it, evokes the bicoastal diaspora with a regret so sharp and indelible it feels tragic--and is. A-