Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Right about now if you've heard the previous National album First Two Pages of Frankenstein which came out just six months ago and have picked up on Laugh Track you are probably checking the state of lyricist Matt Berninger's marriage to Carin Besser.
You might just leap to the idea that maybe the guy needs to get on Tinder or be set up with a blind date.
That's because First Two Pages of Frankenstein was a solemn song cycle about a relationship in tatters, drilling down into the mundane details of dividing up possessions: “What about the instruments? What about the Cowboy Junkies?”
We described it as “elegantly delivered despondency”.
This follow-up in a cover which refers to Frankenstein's is to be read as a companion volume, the 12 songs recorded shortly after its predecessor.
A similar mood prevails, it isn't the counterpoint laugh track.
The opener Alphabet City announces, “I'm not over it, don't know what it is. I can't get there” and “I will listen for you at the door”.
Deep End which follows offers little respite for the writer or listener: “I can't stop myself from thinking about you all the time. I'm always trying to tune you out”.
These are beautifully played, atmospheric songs but the album rolls out like further public therapy for Berninger and prosaic details are picked apart again on Turn off the House: “Put everything in boxes, your head in a paper bag. Leave all the windows open, leave the beds unmade”.
There are alluring songs here like the featherlight Dreaming (“I sleep for an hour. I'm up for now. All this makes me think of you”) and guest Phoebe Bridgers (back from Frankenstein) appears on the title track as a reassuring voice: “I can't even say what it's about, all I am is shreds of doubt. So turn on the laugh track.”.
It's an emotionally wearying if artfully realised journey to Rosanne Cash on Crumble (“I'm gonna crumble”) and the seven minute-plus closer Smoke Detector where Beat poet, stream-of-consciousness imagery is given a kick by the relentless groove. It's as if elegant despondency is finally being relegated.
Let's hope so. These albums have often sounded like the wallowing of a troubled soul.
But in good news, Matt and Carin (whom he co-writes with) and still happily married. That's a relief but you hate to think what he might come up with if they did separate.
But right now? Blind date not required.
You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here.