Listeners—and some critics—have accused The National of being too dreary, too drunk, too awash in self-pity. They’re not totally wrong, and on their sixth record, Trouble Will Find Me, the band has sunk further into their swamp of sadness than ever before. But The National are getting older, and if they sound defeated it only makes sense. Once upon a time, frontman Matt Berninger sang about the twenty-something transition into “the un-magnificent lives of adults.” Trouble Will Find Me is what it sounds like when you’re finally there.
There’s something about the 13 tracks on Trouble Will Find Me that feels very adult, even for The National. These are complex, layered melodies, and band MVP Bryan Devendorf still carries tracks like the first single “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” with his driving drums. But the band’s frantic energy, which burned so brightly on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator, has dimmed over the years. The man who used to scream “My mind’s not right!” on “Abel” is still here, but now he’s come to terms with his situation.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Berninger’s lyrics are still wonderfully weird, and on songs like “Pink Rabbits,” his grandiose, tragicomic imagery fits perfectly with the music’s heaviness: pianos and choirs are moaning right along with him. These songs aren’t meant to build you up, the way that rock music often does; they’re designed to weigh you down instead. Trouble Will Find Me is the soundtrack to the life the band is living rather than the life you want them to be living, and in that, it’s shamelessly honest. Sooner or later, we all have a moment where we need our girl.
Trouble Will Find Me is chock-full of musical references, which present a perfect contrast to the record. Namedropping teenage ennui (Nirvana) and teenage anxiety (The Violent Femmes) reveals that cruel trick of aging: while you lose the energy, the boredom and neuroses stick around. Getting older is a bitch. “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up — fuck,” Berninger sings on “Demons.” For a guy who used to envision himself “carried in the arms of cheerleaders,” it’s gotta be a long way to fall.
Luckily the band is there to catch him. Unlike High Violet, which was marked by high highs and low lows (“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” anyone?) Trouble Will Find Me is amazingly consistent. With the exception of the lackluster opener “I Should Live in Salt,” there isn’t a false note on the album. Sure, The National still wear their middle-class pedigree on their sleeves; you’ve got to be comfortable with a certain level of privilege to think that “What did Harvard teach you?” is a legitimate dig. But the music isn’t begging for pity; all it needs is companionship. “I don’t want you to grieve but I want you to sympathize,” Berninger admits on “Slipped.” Don’t worry, buddy, we’re already half way there.
Tags: The National