Glance back through The National‘s back catalog and it becomes clear that they are a band releasing albums in pairs charting their pathway to mainstream success. As noted on exystenz “[t]he self-titled debut and follow-up Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers represented artists finding their feet and figuring out how to be a band; Alligator and Boxer positioned them as best -rock-act-you’d-never-heard-of cult favorites; and now High Violet and latest release Trouble Will Find Me see the Brooklyn quintet cementing themselves in the mainstream. The new LP is very much a companion to its acclaimed 2010 predecessor and, like the band’s previous offerings, gently slow-burns on the first few listens before completely burrowing under your skin and taking hold. On Trouble Will Find Me, frontman Matt Berninger’s lyrics probe familiar themes of romantic yearning, unyielding anxiety and crawling back from rock bottom, but with more clarity and immediacy than ever before.
‘Demons’ wrestles with daily self-doubt before effortlessly segueing into spiky foot-tapper ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’, a song propelled by Bryan Devendorf’s trademark tight drumming and a neat turn of phrase (“If you want to see me cry / Play Let it Be or Nevermind“).
That awareness of rock ‘n’ roll history has clearly been on The National’s mind of late. Berninger has acknowledged the influence of Roy Orbison (heard here on ‘Heavenfaced’), but there are shades of Dylan and Springsteen in the stories weaved on Trouble. By the end of ‘Humiliation’ Berninger has slid into a pseudo-cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, while album closer ‘Hard to Find’ is a proper lighters/phones-in-the-air tinkling ballad that fills stadiums for U2.
This is unmistakably a National record, though. ‘Graceless’ is a fast-paced tale of addiction whose guitars distort as Berninger sings of going “through the glass again”; an anthem in the mould of ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr November’ that’s destined to become a live favourite. Emotions are worn firmly on sleeves for tracks like ‘Sea of Love’ (which gives the album its title with the lyric “If I stay here, trouble will find me”) and the excellent ‘Pink Rabbits’.
At 13 tracks and clocking in with a running length of 55 minutes, this is the band’s biggest album to date. There’s no filler, although ‘This is the Last Time’ and ‘Slipped’ perhaps don’t linger on the mind like the rest. Trouble Will Find Me is both dark and melancholic, uplifting and quietly euphoric – another masterpiece from The National.