On Sleep Well Beast – their seventh studio album – the Cincinnati band have adopted more of an ‘anything goes’ approach to experimenting/expanding their sound; The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’ guitar solo (yes, a guitar solo in a song by The National) or the opening electronic shift of lead single Guilty Party lead the changes. Lyrically, frontman Matt Berninger’s vocals remain direct. Particularly in the self-medicating I’ll Still Destroy You to the self-deprecating Walk It Back, Berninger delivers sullen political and autobiographical commentary. “I better cut this off, don’t wanna f-ck it up” he mumbles on the latter, in his deepest baritone. On Day I Die he moans “I get a little punchy on the vodka like my great-uncle Valentine Jester did” – a glum but rewarding reference all the way back to Val Jester from 2005’s Alligator, answering long lingering questions about the origins of the latter track’s narrative.
If I told you The National’s seventh album was full of dejected, beautiful songs, would you be surprised? Probably not. Would I be surprised that, after your first listen, this was your favourite album by the band? Absolutely not – SWB is a towering achievement.
Sleep Well Beast is out September 8 via Remote Control.