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The National - Sleep Well Beast (Album Review)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

Album seven from the celebrated miserablists in the National finds the band sticking to the same winning formula of gloomy, reflective melancholy. But its outside influences do vary from the usual personal, introspective themes dispensed through their lyrics, co-written here by Matt Berninger and his wife, the editor Carin Besser.

Alongside some frank discussions of their teetering relationship, we have nods to controlled media output, brainwashing, New York namechecks and post-Trump election distaste, along with percussive detours and blasts of guitar not normally forthcoming in the band’s material.

Their first LP since 2013’s ‘Trouble Will Find Me’, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is another excellent collection that unsurprisingly surpasses their largely lacklustre interim side-projects El Vy and LNZNDRF with a degree of comfort.

The variations within the album work well, making for a compelling listen and ensuring the record’s future longevity. Slower, core National cuts like the expletive-driven Walk It Back, for example, dovetail with the pulsating beats and militaristic drumming displayed on Empire Line.

The woe of opener Nobody Else Will Be There recalls Leaves’ Shakma (Drunken Starlit Sky) and contrasts nicely with the rapid stop/start percussion of I’ll Still Destroy You. The faster tempo and pummelling drums of the excellent Day I Die also offset the subtle minimalism and piano-led beauty of Born To Beg, while addictive keys channel Elton John on Carin at the Liquor Store.

More novel percussion adorns the simple message of Guilty Party, sounding like a variation on Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love in the process, while some unexpected guitar brilliance and an excellent chorus dominate lead single The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.

‘Sleep Well Beast’ manages to meld words of sorrow and regret with a sense of optimism: it’s not too late for change. With all eyes constantly on the unfurling political events around us, Berninger and Besser’s concerns could in turn influence listeners to peel back the layers of lies. Messages like this might even save us from ourselves. If only it was that simple.  

The National Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat September 16 2017 - CORK Opera House
Sun September 17 2017 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Mon September 18 2017 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Wed September 20 2017 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Thu September 21 2017 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Fri September 22 2017 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Sat September 23 2017 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Mon September 25 2017 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Tue September 26 2017 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Wed September 27 2017 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Thu September 28 2017 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

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