The National are a rare and special commodity indeed, they seem to exist in an alternate reality all of their own. They have an almost Teflon power to repel any concrete judgments that aim to stick to their ethereal outer surface. Though they never claim to make music that breaks boundaries, creatively they exist in a bubble. Their sound recalls artists like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen but even as I write this my head's telling me "well not really." Artistically they follow their own path religiously. You would never catch Matt Berninger penning an openly anti-war lyric, instead he expertly crafts word groupings that defy imagination and meaning yet inspire a certain magical imagery that is totally unique to them. The write up on their myspace page puts it perfectly. "The band sings about the kind of dreams that ruin lives, and they make of those dreams the kind of music that saves them."
With Alligator, their 2005 debt for Beggars Banquet, The National pricked up the ears of music critics, bloggers and any one with a heart and at their London gig at Koko they looked openly stunned as the rapturous crowd sang along ecstatically to ever line. It's easy to create honest and unadulterated art in virtual obscurity but how do you do it when your last album genuinely changed lives? Well, Boxer is how.
This follow up contains not a single trace of self awareness. It is as honest and unique as its predecessor and for that reason is like discovering the band all over again. It uses Alligator as a starting point and goes deeper, plumbing newer and far more richer depths of sound and mood. Musically they show a remarkable maturity using great washes of strings to block in their dream-like landscape then send out a resounding boom across this land with pounding piano and the best drumming this band has ever produced.
From the outset it's pretty clear we're in for a treat. Fake Empire is just the kind of opener you want to hear from a band with this much expectation. A rumbling piano counts in Berninger's voice which is gloriously baritone and heralds the first glimpse of the awesome drumming we see so often on Boxer. Mistaken For Strangers has more bite to it, with chugging guitars accompanying the pounding drums. Songs like Green Gloves and Slow Slow just ooze from the speakers with thick, all consuming quality. Slow Slow's gently strummed structure ticks along with a majestic string accompaniment and ends up soaring on a beautifully toe-tapping rhythm. Matt Berninger writes with almost stream-of-consciousness fluidity and his strange tales of diamond slippers, gay ballets on ice and rosie minded fuzz seem to drip from his tongue with such ease that it's quite hypnotic. Unlike previous albums Berninger never raises his voice on Boxer and the blood curdling scream of songs like Sad Songs' Available and Alligator's Abel has all but vanished. Instead we get a voice almost unfathomable in depth which seems to be used as much as an instrument as a conveyor of narrative.
If I had to include one slight complaint it would be the choice of ending on the record. Gospel brings things to a close on a relatively week note especially as the song preceding it is so wonderful. In my opinion Ada would end this album with more of a lasting power with its haunting melancholia and gently simmering unease. But it seems foolish to dwell on this as you'll rarely be listening to this album once and pretty soon you'll have had it on repeat so often that you wont know how it ends.
This album has a strange power. Its depth is slow releasing and after the third play you'll wonder if someone has switched cd's on you. The myriad of layers encoded in its rich tapestry will reveal themselves to you with ever emerging magnificence until its overall splendor will have you open mouthed in awe and wonder. If it hasn't got you after the fifth listen then there's something wrong with your brain or your audio equipment. You can't do much about your brain but if it's the latter then I recommend hiring a Bentley for a weekend and giving it a go on that stereo. Believe me, it'll be worth every penny.
10th May 2007 - Tumblr4.5
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Live at Claremont House
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk
Despite the good press, it's another shapeless, bloated one-dimensional rough cut from Christopher Nolan.
17th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Ambitious CGI can’t save this bland comic book entry. Cumberbatch’s accent strikes the death blow.
17th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Unchallenging drama investigating life with eating disorders. Occasional Keanu Reeves.
12th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Flawless new-generation animation from Disney. Action, heart, comedy and very catchy songs.
6th Aug 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Intense, terrifying, riveting thriller from Tom Ford. Great performances and assured direction.
22nd Jul 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Reasonable zombie drama. More rewarding than Walking Dead, but still a bit derivative.
14th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Intense, borderline arthouse Canadian kidnap drama from Atom Egoyan. Ryan Reynolds impresses.
8th Jul 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Self-important, slightly contrived mainstream indie with the one with the good hair from Friends.
8th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
More clichéd Terrence Malick. Amazing cinematography. Meandering improv. Great real-world settings.
6th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Brutal 80s TV movie, imagining nuclear winter. Age has blended the stock footage to horrifying perfection.
3rd Jul 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Surprisingly charming, sentimental, old style movie with no need for an antagonist. Plus, solid DeNiro.
1st Jul 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Never Go Back
Serviceable action sequel that ticks a lot of boxes without thinking outside of any.
27th Jun 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Totally predictable, thoroughly inspiring animated sing-a-long for the X-Factor generation.
24th Jun 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
B-list, mis-cast, low-ball girl gang comedy. Weak.
19th Jun 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Catastrophically miscast black comedy that fails at every turn. Big let down from star and director.
11th Jun 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Effortless retread of a show that survived well past it's sell-by date.
29th May 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Codswallop that's as indecipherable as every other recent DC movie. Terrible script, hammy acting.
22nd May 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Chaotic, bloated sequel. Low on humour and mostly involving bad guys flying through plate glass.
17th May 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Lazy, half-baked remake/reboot, totally lacking in charm.
17th May 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Wafer thin parenting parable, barely coasting along on the charm of Ferrell and Wahlberg.
16th May 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Classic western tropes burn slowly to an intense finale. Classic Jeff Bridges.
12th May 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Tired, pointless rehash of a franchise that long ran out of steam.
6th May 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Stooges doc that is interesting by default, but dull given that Jim Jarmusch is behind the camera.
28th Apr 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Poingiant doc of the latest Bad Seeds album. Still falls into the usual making-of box.
26th Apr 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Stylish, thought-provoking indie contemplating the weighty responsibilities of parenthood.
22nd Apr 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Great 90s blockbuster, with Harrison Ford carrying the movie on top finger-wagging form.
18th Mar 2017Read more 5 star reviews
Accomplished character piece. Almost stretches itself a bit thin, but it's stylish enough to transcend.
18th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Dated indie classic that uses music to create pseudo-sentimental highs of little real substance.
18th Mar 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Engaging, nostalgic doc which meanders through the rise and rise of 1995’s greatest band ever.
14th Mar 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Quintessential Gus Van Zant. Great art direction, acting and photography. Possibly better with age.
7th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Confident indie comedy-thriller that pitches itself perfectly.
4th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Thoughtful character study, with Eddie Marsan standing up for those who slip through the cracks.
26th Feb 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Brutally fast paced meta-fest, backed up by the most sensible bat-plot for a long time.
16th Feb 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Tenuous financial hostage thriller, that doesn't add up to the sum of its parts.
11th Feb 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Disappointing punk rock horror thriller, that doesn't make the best of its left field set up.
9th Feb 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Potentially forgettable buddy cop pic, elevated by a killer script and live wire performances.
1st Feb 2017Read more 4.5 star reviews
Accomplished, charming NZ indie comedy that wears its influences well.
1st Feb 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Inspiring doc about the kids remaking Raiders over 7 summers.
24th Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Eight Days a Week
Inspiring reminder of the sheer volume of trail blazing laid down by The Beatles.
22nd Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Seminal kids movie that I underrated in '85. Shot with an easy pace, until the free-swim at the end.
Halliwell says: The bottomless pit of the Spielberg genre, a silly tale which takes forever to get going and is acted by children who have not studied elocution. The trick effects when they come are OK, but it's a long annoying haul to that point.
22nd Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Glacially paced, pretentious arthouse fluff, that fritters away a potentially interesting set up.
21st Jan 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Unremarkable potboiler from Le Carre, with a disappointingly bland turn from Ewan McGregor.
17th Jan 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Small scale period drama, anchored around strong central performances.
15th Jan 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Ambitious small scale sci-fi that drags a bit before it all gets a bit wacky.
11th Jan 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Tarantino zeros in on the most-tedious-film-ever award. Someone get the guy a new editor.
7th Jan 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Inventive ensemble drama, as David O. Russell takes another shot at Scorsese's crown. Great soundtrack too.
7th Jan 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Dawn of Justice
Mind-boggling, convoluted actioner that seems to have been written by picking ideas out of a hat.
4th Jan 2017Read more 1 star reviews
Extended super hero punch up, not dissimilar to the news man brawls of 'Anchorman'.
1st Jan 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Seamless CGI remake, lacking in humour and executed with the seriousness of LOTR or Apocalypse Now.
30th Dec 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Text-book rom-com that rebooted the genre and set the template for the next 3 decades.
26th Dec 2016Read more 4.5 star reviews