Monday, April 12, 2010

High Violet, High Expectations

The National's newest album High Violet will be out in less than a month and no one is more pumped about it than Scott Goldstein.

As I get more and more excited about the release of the new The National album, (and by excited I mean crossing-off-the-days-on-your-calendar excited) I reflected upon why I love the National so much. Thus, I present to you my top 5 favorite The National songs.

5. "Baby We’ll be Fine"

Remember that famous scene in Say Anything where the John Cusack stands outside the house holding a stereo and blasting music asking her to take him back? Well, in case I ever royally screw up, this is the song I’ll be playing. With the simple refrain of "I’m So Sorry for Everything," lead singer Matt Berninger takes you into the miserably regretful world of wronging the one you love. But "Baby We’ll be Fine" isn’t just about the girl he’s lost, it’s also about the extremely relatable situation of feeling invisible.

All night I lay on my pillow and pray/For my boss to stop me in the hallway/Lay my head on his shoulder and say/Son, I've been hearing good things.

Reminiscent of the scene in What Women Want, where Mel Gibson can hear his co-worker’s depressing thoughts about not being noticed, "Baby We’ll Be Fine" masterly puts you in the mindset of that lonely person, teaching that a simple compliment can make one’s day.

4. "Mr. November"

"Mr. November" captures anxiety and nerves better than any other song I have ever heard.

3. "All the Wine"

An incredibly inspiring song that climaxes in the defiant “I'm so sorry but the motorcade will have to go around this time.” "All the Wine" asks the question: If all the other shmucks can do it, why can’t I. Sounding overconfident and brass at times, "All the Wine" nevertheless comes through as a fitting anthem for us little people, inspiring us to do great things in the world.

2. "Fake Empire"

The top-played song in my iTunes library, "Fake Empire" tugs you in right from the beginning. With soft syncopated piano, and Berninger’s smooth voice, the song brings you into the idyllic world of a couple just recently fallen in love. The song does not care about the outside world, it barely even notices it!

Tiptoe through our shiny city /with our diamond slippers on/do our gay ballet on ice/
bluebirds on our shoulders/we’re half-awake in a fake empire.

The couple in question only have eyes for each other. But the best part of this simple and gorgeous song is the final 1:10 second instrumental. Starting out with the light piano, the drums then come in with the syncopation, echoing the beginning of the song. Then, a horn solo ensues as the song gets more and more urgent. The couple spin and spin, faster and faster. My favorite part of the song is the end, where a subtle change in the music is finished off by a profound final note and then silence, as the light is turned off and we leave the couple’s room, giving them some well-deserved privacy.

1. "About Today" (live)

You might ask why isn’t "Fake Empire" my favorite The National song if it’s the most played, and it’s a fair question. To tell you the truth, if you ask me in a week I could have a completely different list, depending on my mood. I hate to exclude great songs like "Blank Slate," "Mistaken for Strangers," "Apartment Story" with the killer ending, the soft, slow and beautiful "Lucky You," the depressingly beautiful, "You’ve Done it Again Virginia," "Slow Show," and the powerful "Abel"… but 5 is 5.

About Today (Live), which can be found on the Virginia EP, is currently the song I love the most. It has everything. Beginning with a nearly 1:30 seconds of soothing music, Matt Berninger comes in quietly, almost whispering. One of their saddest songs, "About Today" is a sweet, meaningful melody about the one who got away. The lyrics take a humble back-seat to the caring melody. Yet at about the 5 minute mark (patience, my friends), The National swerve off from the depressingly warm ode of the past “I just watch you slip away. How close am I to losing you.” The first part of the song has Berninger quietly lamenting his loss, but the tone of the song changes from the lament all the way through the years until acceptance is achieved. No longer bottling emotions, like the quiet first part of the song, the emotions all come out in the second half, angry at the world, defiant, then the slow road to recovery as he finally comes to terms with his loss. The song is a rollercoaster with tremendous emotional range, and starting at 5 minutes, one you can dance to. The crowd begins to clap during the last minute of the song as their hero pulls himself up by the bootstraps. What more could one want in 8 minutes

The National’s new album comes out May 11th and is titled High Violet. You should definitely check it out. They already released one of their songs, "Bloodbuzz Ohio," which can be downloaded for free at


  1. Scott, Scott,'ve out done yourself. Sure, I may be bias whenever anyone writes anything lovingly about The National, but really, your descriptions were poignant, impressively observant and intuitive. I learned a lot from your assesments.

    Without sounding condescending, I was blown away that someone with so few years under his belt, could grasp so clearly the lyrics that capture poetically and chillingly the emotions and situations that a twenty/thirty-something experiences. However, I will now look at this a bit differently since it is obvious that their lyrics are not exclusive to this age and that people from all age groups can empathisize with what they are saying. The last time they came to DC I was surprised at how many different ages of people were there to watch them play, so really, I should not be surprised at all, but thanks to your blog I was able to really understand how the songs can be interpreted outside of a twenty/thirty-something's mind.

    I particularly loved your interpretations of "Fake Empire". I have always tried to figure out what they were alluding to and you nailed it!

    The one thing that I wanted to add was a bit more about "Mr. November". I think it is specifically about Pres. George W. Bush and his rise to power after the November elections. Do me a favor and listen to it again and let me know if you agree.

    Thanks again and keep writing!

  2. Couldn't agree more. All songs by The National open themselves up for interpretation due to the really visceral lyrics and I think it's really interesting what each different person can garner from these songs.

    For me "Baby We'll Be Fine" has always been about the anxiety of a 20/30-something careerist who wants to move up the chain at work and has a father-issue type relationship with his boss who is an authority figure he wished would love him or at least let him in the 'club.' Also, I have always thought that "Fake Empire" is a little more political and that it's sort of about this rosy one-sided view of the world that Americans have because we're barely paying attention.

    I'm sticking with my interpretation of "Baby We'll be Fine" but I'm totally into your idea for "Fake Empire." Love it! Anyway I cannot wait to hear the new album!

  3. Kendra, thanks so much for the kind words! You did not come off as condescending whatsoever! I feel like all the music being written for us young people is repetitive catchy talentless rubbish. The way the National explore the "poetically and chilling emotions," is what makes me love them so much, it makes them original and new to me.
    I'm glad I was able to change your opinion on matters of age. If only the government would let us vote at this age:)
    As to Mr. November, you could very well be correct, just one thing: "I'm the new blue blood," isn't blue traditionally the liberal color? Listening to it again, I definitely do hear a hint of political undertone, good find!
    Travis, thanks very much for the kind words. You said you were into my interpretation of Fake Empire, and I think I'm into yours when it comes to Baby We'll be Fine. I do love the idea of the employee-boss relationship you bring up, and I think it was written around the time where they still had non-music related full-time jobs. What you suggest could very well be true, there definitely is a feeling of wanting to be accepted in that song. That makes two of us who cannot wait for this album!
    Thanks for the responses.

  4. Actually, three of us! Real quick answer about the "blue blooded" line, Scott. Good point about liberal blue, but I think they are using it in reference to the older expression of blue blood/ed...(from
    also blue·blood (blū'blŭd')
    1.Noble or aristocratic descent.
    2.A member of the aristocracy.
    The Bush family could totally be thought of as the new aristocracy-the American aristocracy. Shameful but true. :)

  5. Graham Cracker17/4/10 20:06

    Great discussion of your favorite group-
    the music sounds great and the interpretation
    of lyrics gives much food for thought.
    Can't wait for the CD.
    keep blogging!