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-

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-