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The National: 'Alligator'


The National is a rock band from Brooklyn whose members are boyhood friends from Cincinnati, but their roots may be more international. DAY TO DAY music critic Christian Bordal reviews the band's third CD, "Alligator."

(Soundbite of music)


I recently ran across a review of "Alligator," the new record by Brooklyn band The National, that excoriated the album for terrible lyrics. I thought that was kind of funny because I'd had the record on a couple of times and liked it. But I hadn't even thought to question what Matt Berninger, the band's lead singer and lyricist, was saying. When I did start listening a little more closely, I found the words pretty effective; obscure, but suggestive. They also have a great off-kilter rhythm that pulses with and sometimes pushes against the grain of the music.

(Soundbite of music)

THE NATIONAL: (Singing) Well, whatever you do then, you better wait for me. You know I wouldn't go out alone into America. Whatever you do then, then you better wait for me. No, I wouldn't go out alone. Karen, we should call your father. Maybe it's just the thing because he'll know the trick to get away with ...(unintelligible) change his ways.

BORDAL: I assumed the band was English when I first heard The National. I guess it was something about the melancholy pop melodies. Or I thought maybe Canadian because there are elements of the current smart, artsy, indie Canadian sound of groups like the Weakerthans and The Dears and Arcade Fire. In fact, the five members of The National grew up in Cincinnati and found each other again in Brooklyn, which is where they now make their loose, rumbling, understated music together.

(Soundbite of music)

THE NATIONAL: (Singing) I think this place is full of spies. I think they're on to me. Didn't anybody, didn't anybody tell you? Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?

BORDAL: Like lead singer Matt Berninger's lazy baritone, the band has an appealingly languid, unruffled style. Nothing's forced. There's no big production moments or musical crescendoes letting you know that something really important is about to happen. The band seems to trust the melodies to do the work, letting them unwind slightly surreptitiously and on the best songs hook you with a winning off-hand sweetness.

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THE NATIONAL: (Singing) It went its dull and wicked old merry way. It went its dull and wicked old merry way. And I'm so sorry I missed you. I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain.

BORDAL: My one reservation with this record is that some of the songs feel too slight. They're like mood pieces. The band's arrangements and their performances and the lead singer's voice, the words and phrases that bubble to the surface, the production--none of these individual elements tries to stand out or hog the limelight. They're all working together selflessly to create the mood, to set the scene for the melody. So when the melody isn't up to the task, the song goes flat. But when the melody is compelling, everything fits into place, and that's when the whole thing really comes to life.

(Soundbite of music)

THE NATIONAL: (Singing) So lit up, lit up, lit up all right. I try to untie Manhattan. Lit up, lit up, lit up all right. I try to untie.

BRAND: The CD is "Alligator" from the band The National. Our reviewer is Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of music)

THE NATIONAL: (Singing) ...like a flag and everything surrounds you and it doesn't fade. Nothing like this sound I make that only lasts the season and only heard by bedroom kids who buy it for that reason, 'cause you're the low-life of the party, bad blood, bad blood for everybody. I'm in control, and I believe. So lit up, lit up, lit up all right. I try to untie Manhattan.

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christian Bordal