High caliber artists invite themselves on the ninth album of the group, mature and sumptuous.
The members of The National have reunited once again for First Two Pages of Frankenstein, a ninth album that takes you up close to frontman Matt Berninger’s introspection at a trying time in his life.
Matt Berninger, leader of the best-known indie band, has said in recent months that he was completely stuck in writing for more than a year, while he was going through a dark period of depression. To the point where he thought for a moment that this might be the end of The National.
The song Tropic Morning News, co-written with Berninger’s wife, Carin Besser, was a turning point. The song that would start a new era for the group. Our favorite song on this album where there is no shortage of tracks to adore.
It encapsulates in five minutes (the songs of The National are always so long on this disc) the intention of the album: this need, it seems, to externalize all the hard things to endure and to face, that Berninger had to overcome before he could approach them. As he finally tells everything he couldn’t say, we have access to a melancholy, nostalgic work, where darkness is constantly opposed to a visceral need for light (which shines at its strongest on the last piece, Send For Me).
Three high caliber artists were guest on the album, Sufjan Stevens, Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers. Swift brings a lot of her touch to The Alcott, on which Berninger and she respond sumptuously, like a couple reminiscing about better times to which they would like to return.
The opening piece, Once Upon a Poolside, a lament led by the piano, with Sufjan Stevens, is hauntingly tender. Eucalyptus, just after, which we can already imagine sung in chorus in the shows that the group will soon give, is a galvanizing and at the same time delicate hymn, as The National knows how to compose them so well. The arrangements, on this piece and all the others, are beyond reproach. New Order T-Shirt blends the naivety and lyrical simplicity of The National’s early essays with a now well-earned maturity — a mix that has it all.
The two pieces on which Phoebe Bridgers appears give her a restricted place, where she brings backing vocals. Bridgers’ seraphic voice brings these already magnificent pieces to an even more appreciable level. The powerful Your Mind Is Not Your Friend, on which she has a little more room to shine, is a song inspired by the first two pages of Frankenstein, a novel by Mary Shelly that Matt Berninger began when he was afflicted with the syndrome from the blank page. Hence the title of the album.
The projects of everyone outside of The National distinctly color the current approach of the group. Aaron Dessner has worked on the (very pop) albums of Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams, among others, in addition to launching with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) the collaborative album of their group Big Red Machine. Matt Berninger released his first solo project in 2020. Bryce Dessner composed film scores and the Devendorf brothers each collaborated on projects by other artists. These eclectic experiences enrich what the American group offers today. We are entering a new phase, a welcome evolution, without major turmoil (it is The National, all the same), but so sumptuous.