The National, hailing from Ohio in the USA, have just released their first mini-album in Ireland, “Cherry Tree”.
Comprising 6 new songs, and a live version of “Murder Me Rachel” from their previous album release, the National are comparable to many bands currently in the public eye – Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers.
But before you go out and buy this album in the hopes of discovering this years “Take Me Out” before all your friends do, be warned – this is not the art-house pop-rock favoured by Misters Ferdinand…this is dirty, depressed, drunken music; fantastic in its utter despair at times, with the occasional lighter moment. And it’s bloody good.
Kicking off with the acoustic-led “Wasp’s Nest”, lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep voice reminds you of Tom Waits sitting at a bar-room piano, with Nick Cave accompanying him. The song, with a slightly upbeat tempo, deals with a man who KNOWS he’s in a bad relationship – “You’re a wasp’s nest, your eyes are broken bottles, and I’m afraid to ask/you’re poison in a pretty glass” – but cannot leave – “Get over here, I wanna kiss your skinny throat”.
“All the Wine” deals with that wonderful situation we all feel from time to time – out on the town, drink and/or drugs flowing through you, money in your back pocket, and the world at your feet – “I’m put together beautifully/I’m a perfect piece of ass/So tall I take over the street/I’m a festival, I’m a parade”.
Highlight of the album has to be the low-burning “About Today”. Dealing with that split-second at the end of a relationship when you know it’s over; when you realise there’s no going back; when it dawns on you that the person across from you will be leaving your life…never has 4 minutes and 10 seconds so perfectly described a moment – “Today, you were far away/What could I say, I was far away”. Over a violin, an incessant drum beat, and a low guitar strum, Berninger’s low baritone invokes utter resignation – “How close am I, to losing you? Tonight/Are you awake? Yeah, I’m right here”
“All Dolled Up In Straps” deals with the moment you see an ex-lover with someone else for the first time, and describes that sudden unexplained, and unnecessary, rush of anger you feel. “My head plays it over and over, I think I heard you singing/Where have you been?”
The live version of “Murder Me Rachel” fits perfectly in with the tone of the album, as it deals with the same subject matter as “All Dolled…” – “I saw my love with pretty boy”. Recorded live in France, the song breaks up the downbeat acoustic songs of the last half of the album by providing a loud drum- & electric guitar-driven intermission.
An excellent introduction to a group of guys who know what heartache is. Although slightly weaker in the second half of the album, that doesn’t matter when 5 out of the 7 songs are eminently listenable. Some beautifully-crafted melodies, the only word of warning is not to concentrate on the lyrics too much if you’re listening to this with your partner present – they may feel you’re trying to tell them something.