Album review: Trouble Will Find Me - The National (2013)
“You don’t know when shit’s going to hit the fan,” says Bryce of the album’s title.
Don't Swallow the Cap
I Should Live in Salt
This Is the Last Time
As with High Violet (2010), it mostly continues the mellower approach, and to me is equally as good. The three opening tracks are powerful, on an album with few weaknesses. What struck me is the remarkable honesty of the writing, which is also somehow universal.
I love the lyrics of I Should Live in Salt, how friends/family should know us enough to predict our reactions, it really is something everyone can relate to. According to Berninger in NPR interview, it's a song about the tour for High Violet, when his younger brother made a film about The National called Mistaken for Strangers, and how they have different personalities as brothers.
Demons is a highlight(I actually misheard the chorus lyrics, thinking it was “I stay down, with my ideals/ideas).
Don’t Swallow The Cap is a change of pace and possibly my favorite, with what seem like very introspective, personal lyrics.
On Fireproof, it’s as if he’s admitting he’s sensitive.
About the song This Is the Last Time, says Bryce: “There’s this idea of not hiding, and accepting some of the awkward, weird things about yourself. That’s healthier than burying it. On this record, we feel the most comfortable in our own skin.”
The less prominent album tracks on the second half of the record you could argue are not as impacting, yet the lyrics speak of different stories and emotions, so you shouldn’t write them off, Humiliation, and I Need My Girl are pretty good.
Apparently Sufjan Stevens and Sharon Van Etten are guests, though I honestly couldn’t tell. There are some obvious and less obvious homages to other music, such as “she wore blue velvet”, and the lyric “kiss off into the air”, the later which may or may not be a shout-out to Violent Femmes.
But it’s not for everyone, if you like upbeat music, you may want to pass on Trouble Will Find Me. The only thing I wish is that lead vocalist Berninger would experiment a bit more with his signature sombre vocal, but you can’t have it all. The band don’t reinvent themselves, but I would be surprised if it isn’t in my top 10 albums of 2013 at years end.
Oh, when I lift you up you feel
Like a hundred times yourself
I wish everybody knew
What's so great about you
"I have only two emotions
Careful fear and dead devotion
I can't get the balance right"
"I'm tired, I'm freezing, I'm dumb
When it gets so late I forget everyone"
"There's a time to leave, there's a time to think about
What I wanna say to the girls at the door
I need somewhere to be
But I can't get around the river in front of me"
"Think about something so much
You should know me better than that
Start to slide out of touch
You should know me better than that"
While writing Trouble, Berninger was struck by an irrational fear of death—not so much for himself, but the idea that he would no longer be there to take care of his wife and child. Imagined deaths and what comes after crop up all through Trouble, treated with total fear, absurd humor, and curiosity. In an attempt to put off death for as long as possible, the singer quit smoking (a habit he’d kept since his teens) in 2011 and now looks twice when crossing the street in the two cities he calls home, Brooklyn, and more recently, L.A. He describes himself as “a secular humanist” who doesn’t believe in heaven, and is only just becoming an adult, but this newfound responsible behavior is his way of assuring what he sees as his afterlife—the part of you that lives on in other people. “Having a child made that so much clearer,” Berninger says. “You can’t control everything, whether it’s serotonin, chemicals, whatever-- there's no way you can make sure your child is going to be happy. My parents are wonderful, but I went through some phases of total despair and sadness. But I see afterlife in my daughter. It’ll be better for her if I don’t go anywhere for a long time. I never had that anxiety before.” (…) But where “Fake Empire” was about closing the blinds to the Bush years, the band’s political affiliations barely manifest on Trouble. “For this record, we wanted to put all that stuff away,” says Berninger. “These songs were coming from a completely different place; a subconscious, non-strategic, non-academic place.”
Have you listened to the new album, agree or disagree with my verdict?