The two songs that frame The National’s ninth album — fragile opener “Once Upon A Poolside” and quiet finale “Send For Me” — govern this remarkable record’s tone.
This is not The National in rhapsodic, quick-fire mode; the big choruses and sonic complexities have been dampened down and even guest turns from big names – Taylor Swift (“The Alcott”), Phoebe Bridgers (“This Isn’t Helping”, “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend”), Sufjan Stevens (“Once Upon A Poolside”) – feel like conversations held between glass.
Instead this is a band subdued and half-submerged – programmed drums keep the music lower, like waist-high water that Matt Berninger’s voice must wade through, as he sings of alienation and detachment, of relationships disintegrating, worlds dismantling.
For all his struggles to write …Frankenstein, this is perhaps the finest lyrical hour of Berninger’s career. There is a tenderness that overrides the wit, a simplicity and carefulness to his lines. In “New Order T-Shirt” particularly, the band have created one of those perfect National numbers: a track built on a melancholic musical loop and propelled by a sweet nostalgia; a love song striking in the precision of its imagery, from black flats to magazine skyscrapers, Kentucky aquariums to blue American Spirits.
Even without the backstory or an understanding of how difficult this record was to make, …Frankenstein is a skilful portrait of what it means to feel disconnected from the joy and urgency of life.