Artist – Album: The National - Alligator
Released: 12th April 2005
Sounds Like: The National anthems
Depending on how long you’ve been on this album a day journey with me, you may or may not have noticed yet that I post a carefully selected link to Youtube for each album’s best song. Hidden away after the track listing (for fear of recrimination from über-fans who are convinced that ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out) is better than ‘Fake Plastic Trees’), these have honoured such fantastic if obscure album tracks as Of Montreal’s ‘My Favourite Boxer’, Sia’s ‘Electric Bird’, Tullycraft's 'Twee' and The Young Knives’ ‘Turn Tail’. I will at some point get them all up on to a Spotify playlist and share with everyone, and it will be a happy day.
I only mention this today because on The National’s Alligator it is so difficult to pinpoint a solitary best song, such is the consistency of the craftsmanship. As a whole album it slightly lacks the cohesion of follow up record Boxer, but as a collection of songs it is simply unbeatable. If you’re looking for the typical The National mix of the ominous and gorgeous, look no further than ‘Karen’. Another aspect of the band’s success is the low croon of front man Matt Berninger, buttering you up with literate but simple chatter before delivering an offhand uppercut of sombreness or unhinged affection. Fancy a bit of that? Try ‘Daughters of the SoHo riots’ (“break my arms around the one I love”) or ‘All the Wine’ (“I’m in a state, i’m in a state, nothing can touch us, my love”). ‘Mr November’ is a suitably venomous closer, with its chorus of “they won’t fuck us over”. ‘Looking for Astronauts’ is a love-too-late song centred on the beautiful sentiment “You know you have a permanent piece of my medium-sized American heart”. ‘Lit Up’ is an uptempo indie anthem, with probably the coolest verses on the entire record, although burdened with a slightly unconvincing chorus. ‘Abel’ is a second attempt at the anthem and is more successful, with a brilliant shouty chorus. They’re all great.
In the end, I plumped for ‘Secret Meeting’, the first song. It creeps up on you with ringing guitars, shuffling drums and Berninger’s hushed serenade. The lyrics are romantic (maybe?) and totally bewildering “I'm sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”. And it builds to a crescendo, with a riotous rabble chanting the indecipherable backing by the time its three minutes are up. It’s the perfect encapsulation of all that is great about this tremendous band.
Albumaday... rating: 8/10
1. Secret Meeting – 3:44
2. Karen – 3:59
3. Lit Up – 2:55
4. Looking for Astronauts – 3:23
5. Daughters of the SoHo Riots – 3:59
6. Baby, We’ll Be Fine – 3:21
7. Friend of Mine – 3:25
8. Val Jester – 3:00
9. All the Wine - 3:15
10. Abel – 3:37
11. The Geese of Beverly Road – 4:57
12. City Middle – 4:28
13. Mr. November – 3:57
Listen to ‘Secret Meeting’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFb9tiK0hVo