ALLIGATOR by the national

by Sean

Pitchfork: 7.9            Rolling Stone: 3/5            Metacritic: 81            Spin: N/A


Released: April 2005
  1. Secret Meeting
  2. Karen
  3. Lit Up
  4. Looking for Astronauts
  5. Daughters of the SoHo Riots
  6. Baby, We’ll Be Fine
  7. Friend of Mine
  8. Val Jester
  9. All The Wine [LISTEN]

  10. Abel
  11. The Geese of Beverly Road
  12. City Middle
  13. Mr. November

   The National first started to get national recognition with the release of 2007’s Boxer.  I was introduced to them with Alligator, one of the best unknown records of 2005. It took awhile for me to get used to Matt Berninger’s scruffy baritone vocals along with melodies lacking quick-hitting hooks, but I can honestly say that after listening to these two releases The National is one of the best bands in America today.

   I knew that I wanted to write about the National but I needed to be in a certain frame of mind to do so . With a few shots of whiskey and a somewhat obstructed view of nighttime city streets, I think I am there. Alligator offers a variety of songs that can appeal to almost any mood possible. My preference is dark, cold, and buzzed, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying at any time. Berninger’s often quirky lyrics deal with lost friendships, lost love, and yearning to keep those relationships from spiralling into distant memories. He is apologetic, paranoid, and (maybe sarcastically) narcissistic. This may just make Alligator sound like another sad bastard record, but in actuality, it is not.

   Alligator begins with a simultaneous strike of a snare and cymbal crash followed by the simple yet unmistakable riff of “Secret Meeting”. Berninger sings, “I think this place is full of spies/I think they’re on to me/Didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?… And now I’m sorry I’ve missed you/I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”. The first track climaxes with Berninger singing, “It went the dull and wicked ordinary way” while his bandmates chant an indecipherable phrase over and over, which Berninger himself has said he would never reveal. Some have suggested “Just drop the dice and roll it” or “Never draw an ace and fold it”. Either of these would suggest a lyrical dichotomy that many could relate to. The carpe diem mindset, or lack thereof, oftentimes ends in a “dull and wicked ordinary way” no matter how the cards are played.

   (I have now switched from whiskey to gin. I’m right back to where I was two years ago in College Park, MD, when I fell in love with this band. This is good. Well…maybe not.)

   Alligator’s centerpiece and perhaps one of The National’s best songs is “All the Wine”. This song is a perfect example of how beautiful and melodic this band can sound with two interwoven electric guitars and a simple but unorthodox drumbeat. The aforementioned narcissistic lyrics are on full display in this song. It opens, “I’m put together beautifully/big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth/I’m a perfect piece of ass, like every Californian”, and continues with lines like, “I’m a birthday candle in a circle of black girls” and “I’m so sorry but the motorcade can go around me this time”. Berninger is not afraid to dive into sensitive subjects to get his points across, but after reading a few of his interviews it’s easy to see that these aren’t his actual views of himself or the band. However, even as he puts himself on top of the world he is still concerned about those he cares about, singing, “All safe and sound, I won’t let the psychos around…I’m in a state where nothing can touch us, my love”. Because, shit, what’s the fun in feeling power and perfection if it can’t be used to share with and help those we love?

   I’d like to shortly address some of the critics that call The National “soft” or “dull” by calling attention to the songs “Abel” and “Mr. November”. I’m not usually the type that gets off by hearing grown men scream in songs but I’ll be damned if Matt Berninger screaming “My mind’s not RIGHT!” in “Abel”, and “I won’t fuck us over/I’m Mr. November” doesn’t make me a little moist in the pants. This band can rock the fuck out with the best of them when they want, and if you’re one of these critics, at least give these two songs a listen.

   I could probably write a twenty page paper on this album, describing the brilliance of every song, but that would bore 99% of the readers, and I’m not sure I have enough patience (or liquor) to do that. If you’ve only heard a few songs or brushed off The National due to the (actually not so) “monotone” vocals of Matt Berninger, or some other lame excuse, I beg you to give Alligator at least a few more complete listens. I promise you will connect with much more then you initially expected, both musically and emotionally. This album, and this band, is the real deal.


Filed under the national

2 responses to “ALLIGATOR by the national

  1. tight review and love the album. If you haven’t (justifiably) already OD’d on top 10 of the decade lists, you might be interested in my 10 albums post, which includes Alligator. Cheers!

  2. Pingback: HIGH VIOLET by the national « the music seen

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