The National, a Cincinnati via New York’s version of the Joy Division with Midwestern smarts, has traveled a similar path as another indie-darling, American, veteran band, Spoon. That being, specializing in ‘more of the same’ when it comes to their records, songs, delivery. They’re too far in by now to switch gears stylistically. Matt Berninger’s songs are studies of the everyday city man, common circumstances delivered with an almost empty, casual, narration very reminiscent of Ian Curtis, Joy Division, with a better command on melody. (You’ve heard it before, the New York scene of the early to mid 2000s and Joy Division comparisons, see Interpol if you slept through the 2000s.)
Expecting nothing, especially after a well-fed respectable listening streak of the last 3 National records (Sad Songs…/Alligator/Boxer), I expected the well to be dry. That those imaginary career windows close and Berninger moves on to a solo career and the rest of the band spends a life rewarded with poverty and alcoholism. Such is life with a short career in music for many unless you have what it takes to relocate to far out of the way American places like Rockford, IL or say, Auburn Hills, MI, hell, why not, Modesto, CA? Apply for the ‘Personal Jesus’ Job Position that Depeche Mode and Johnny Cash sang about. You can live in poverty level, unrewarding and overworked situations, be an ex-indie band member saving cities from a cultural and economic flushing. Sounds nuts? I know, but not really. Take a walk through downtown anywhere. Dive deeper and open your eyes.
Not the case for The National, no plans for an early artistic break. High Violet as a record is more of the same as before however, it’s for the better somehow. Deeper, darker studies in American rock minimalism that after repeated listening, the darkness naturally reveals something quite colorful, focused and cruel.
Anyone’s Ghost says it all in about two minutes and fifty-six seconds. There’s this spot I call home below the ocean floor, cracked, where you can see and hear everything. It’s all clear from down there, below the filth and rusted remnants of wars passed. People become sharks above, circling on standby waiting for the next kill. Transmissions are interfered down here— listen for the laughing, always. On the base of the ocean floor, below Rockford, Auburn Hills, Modesto, below Ohio to NY in Berninger’s case, there’s old, long lost radios, assumed dead and drowned garbling in unison our favorite songs about lost loves and better times, everywhere. Then this song comes on and everything stops;
You said I came close as anyone has come to live underwater,
for more than a month.
You said it was not inside my heart,
You said it should tear a kid apart,
It’s a knock out. Anyone’s Ghost is a song that can squash a whole record; as great as High Violet is on it’s own, this song does that. The National hit a high mark with Anyone’s Ghost. It’s an American post-Bush era pop song with dark, steady, paranoid percussion, a killer chorus and key lines;
I had a hole in the middle where the lightning went through it.
Told my friends not to worry.
Paranoia never sounds this heartbreaking, empty even— defeated. This is The National’s greatest strength as a band. Especially after you’ve already been struck hard. Fear and anger are a human being’s weapons for emotional defense in most cases, not love and forgiveness. That comes later if you can out-swim the sharks and the mermaids to the bottom.
Paranoia delivered as a musical foil, Anyone’s Ghost, listen closer, there’s love and strength and it is dark and beautiful like many 4ams can be in any city, anywhere when everyone else is lying, puking or sleeping. The National goes darker than the city they’ve exposed on previous songs with Anyone’s Ghost. Their character studies are brighter, sharper, vivid- again, beautiful yet cruel. These are the ghosts in every one of us.
Give up now broken hearted hipsters, stay in, don’t go out late, this is a song you may hear before last call when all the plastered ghosts are out. We all know the drunk, wine drinking, city socialites will dance to this regardless with their eyes closed in a slow, hazy, head bobbing, chin approving, slutty or sweaty squalor. Squalid— like an orange-skinned, sloshed newscaster singing Don McLean’s American Pie soon after this song ends around 1:46 a.m., somewhere in a’Merica. Let them dance, let them sing, they deserve it being the bearer of bad news most of the time.
Songs like this connect on so many more emotional levels when you go deeper than most can or would want to. Is that honorable? Hail nawl, but:
The sharks go home.
Everything is clearer.
F*ck your town and I’m outta heres become prayers instead of insults.
Didn’t want to be your ghost.
Didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost
but I don’t want anybody else.
Anyone’s Ghost is a poor man’s city anthem if you can manage to get back to shore in one piece. This song should help guide ya but leave the radios behind, please. Someone else is going to need them any minute now.
AW | andywhorehall.com