The National - Alligator
Mike Mantin 11/04/2005
With New York offering little in the Great Bands department last year after 2003's NY explosion, it's refreshing to see one of the year's gems straight outta Brooklyn. This, however, is no hype-fuelled hipster workout. 'Alligator' is the National's third album, their first on a major label and hopefully the one which will throw them into the mainstream, and deservedly so. It should float the boats of fans of dark, brooding post-punk (opener 'Secret Meeting) and introspective Americana (the beautiful 'Daughters Of The Soho Riots) alike. There's even a bit of welcome shouting thrown in, on fantastic single 'Abel'.
Matt Berninger provides deep, soothing vocals reminiscent of Ian Curtis and, more recently, Interpol's Paul Banks, which slot in perfectly with the high-pitch guitar noises. But the range of styles and oblique lyrics suggest there's far more on offer here than moody alt-rock. Berninger turns alt-country strummer 'Karen' into a medium for his deepest thoughts and sexual confessions. You'll notice the breezy tune first and the interesting lyrics (“Karen, put me in a chair, fuck me and make me a drink” and even more disturbing, “It's a common fetish for a doting man to ballerina on the coffee table, cock in hand”) second, giving the album substantial replay value.
Almost every track on this mini masterpiece is intriguing and listenable and there are highlights in abundance. 'Abel' boasts a great sing-along chorus of “My mind's not right!” amidst simple indie-rock verses, while closer 'Mr November' documents their (clearly failed) rush to get the album completed before the November elections with its line “The English are waiting and I don't know what to do/ In my best clothes” before just about getting away with saying “I'm the new blue blood, I'm the great white hope”, because it might just be true. 'Val Jester' and 'Daughters Of The Soho Riots' are both gorgeous slower songs unafraid to delve into strange personal love experiences and fantasies. Tuneful and poetic, 'Alligator' is truly an album to cherish.