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The National - Alligator

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Artist: The National

Album: Alligator

Label: Beggars Banquet

Review date: Apr. 12, 2005

Alligator is the third release from Brooklyn based five-piece The National, and their first for venerable UK label Beggars Banquet. The move to an English label and extensive European touring, along with a better European reception for their sophomore effort Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers seems to have further distanced The National’s sound from their Americana-tinged self-titled debut. The slight electronic touches that graced Sad Songs are gone, replaced by a more straightforward guitar-driven post-punk sound, with bigger choruses and flashier production courtesy of longtime collaborator Peter Katis, who also produced Interpol’s two full-lengths.

To write The National off as trying to cash in on the success of Interpol may be tempting, and the leanness and catchiness of many of Alligator’s tracks seem to be an attempt to reach a larger audience. The band, however, still maintains the self-awareness that informed the naming of Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers: for every gothic, morose sentiment there’s an equal amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation. Singer Matt Berninger has gained a reputation as a miserablist, and the lyrical bulk of Alligator is still women (“Karen”), booze (“All the Wine”), and the trials and tribulations of mixing the two (“Baby, We’ll Be Fine”). Berninger, using a narrative voice that helps create a distance between the singer and the subject, seems equally aware of the pathetic nature of his lyrics: (“I put on an Argyle sweater and put on a smile / and try to be brave” on “Baby, We’ll Be Fine”) and “I’m a perfect piece of ass / all the wine is all for me” on “All the Wine”). The words revel in their lameness, more a case study of middle-class angst than a product of it.

Alligator’s biggest missteps are the moments when the music joins in the apprehension, rendering the coyness in Berninger’s lyrics unreadable. Album opener “Secret Making” and first single “Abel” both feature unwelcome Modest Mouse-style screaming. Mid-tempo numbers such as “Geese of Beverly Road” and “City Middle,” with its name dropping of alcohol-obsessed playwright Tennessee Williams, fair better and give Berninger’s rich baritone a chance to stand out. “Val Jester” is the only track on Alligator to feature a string arrangement, in contrast to the numerous tracks that helped define the sound of Sad Songs, and remains one of the album’s best. Of the rock songs here, only finale “Mr. November” stands up to the best of The National’s work, exuding a ferocity that ends the album on a surprising climax.

By Jon Pitt

Other Reviews of The National

Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers


High Violet

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Find out more about Beggars Banquet

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