It’s finally here!! All is well in this world again with the release of The Nationals seventh album ‘Sleep Well Beast’. It’s been four years since ‘Trouble Will Find Me‘ and on first appearances, the wait is worth it. Four singles preceded the release of the album, the best in my opinion being ‘Carin In The Liquor Store’, but they were all brilliant in truth. The singles were a good indication of the record as none were too radio friendly or sales focused. I might get some stick for this but in my opinion, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is their most consistent album since ‘Alligator’. I’ll cover this further in a moment but for now let me just say that this record is fantastic.
After the release of the first single ‘The System Only Dreams In Darkness’ The National came in for a little criticism with people commenting that the new Radiohead single was out. There is certainly a change in sound with regards to the album but nothing like the drastic changes Radiohead regularly went through for their albums. What there is on ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is the breaking of chains and past preconceptions. They’ve stepped away from the brooding and heartbreak for the most of this record and shown us a side we haven’t really see since ‘Alligator’, or at least a side that was suppressed in the last 3 records. This record is quicker, more adventurous and risky than recent records and I’m delighted they’ve taken this approach. It’s an album they’ve been missing from their catalog but one that still reminds you of their power. Something I had been saying to a few friends or people I met was that perhaps recent individual projects and new bands have benefited The National because in sort of opened their eyes to change. Matt Berninger’s side project El Vy put together one of the albums of 2015 in ‘Return To the Moon‘, Aaron Dessner has been off producing albums for bands such as Local Natives, Bryan Devendorf is part of a few experimental rock bands as is his brother Scott and Bryce Dessner has been off producing scores for films such as The Revenant!
So I think all this could have got the guys thinking and eventually they just screw it lets try something a little different. Bob Dylan said it “there’s nothing so stable as change“. ‘Sleep Well Beast‘ could well become a fan favourite and ‘the’ National album in years to come. As well as the musical change the songwriting theme changes slightly too. There’s more anger in the lyrics, more questions being asked of the other person in the relationship, not to say that relationships is all that this record is about. In ‘Empire Line’ we hear “can’t you find a way, you are in this too” as if to say that the issues in a relationship are the responsibility of both parties. National fans will be well aware of this theme in their music but this time it’s like they fight back. ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ is about Matt’s frequent indulgence in a variety of drugs and it’s actually a well told story, telling us the dangers he finds himself in despite the fact he continues to use and enjoys it. ‘Day I Die’ and ‘Turtleneck’ prop up the rock side of the album but we hear dazzling guitar solos and structure throughout as the Dessners continue to add to their collection of masterpieces. The three other released singles were ‘Carin In The Liquor Store’, ‘Guilty Party’ and ‘Day I Die’ and in truth all 4 singles were well picked as I mentioned earlier. ‘Carin…’ is a brilliant track that calms the album down late on and ‘Guilty Party’ is slightly more trippy than ‘The System..’. ‘Guilty Party’ was co-written by his wife and it is a fictional story about their marriage falling apart. Imagine that. My No.1 track from the album is ‘Walk It Back’ because it’s The National to the core, great music and Berninger doing Berninger perfectly.
To be honest, you’ll just have to listen to the album because I can’t explain it well enough. Hearing it is far better than reading about it that’s for sure. I love it and that’s not just because I’m a National fan. I think it’s a ballsy move by them and one they executed perfectly. Their still growing from the same roots but now they’re growing lemons instead of apples!! It’s tasty lemonade too!