It’s a tricky thing, awaiting albums by bands who are personal friends. I don’t know what I fret about more, whether it gets a good reception in the wider press or whether I myself can honestly look the band in the eye and say that I like it.
Their first album was on the receiving end of some of the most negative 3/5 reviews I think I have ever read. Because of tricky record label negotiations, not helped by the credit crunch, it took them almost a year longer to get their debut album out than it perhaps should have, leaving the band to face a backlash before, to re-use a phrase from a recent review, there had ever been much of a front-lash.
Even from my own perspective, as much as I liked the album, much of the excitement in hearing a new release was dissipated by the fact that I already knew all the songs so well from their live shows that there were few actual surprises left in the record itself.
Whereas Ian Caple, who produced Until the Earth Begins to Part, gave the band pretty much free reign in terms of how the record ended up sounding, this time they have been working with Tony Doogan in Glasgow, who has by all accounts been a lot less indulgent. This, it turns out, is a very good thing.
Between the negative reactions in some quarters to their first record, and the uncertain period the band themselves endured when two of their number decided to call it quits earlier in the year, there is a fair bit of emotional tension in the air when you listen to Let Me Come Home, and it has served the music very, very well indeed. There is real bite to most of this, and it is darker and in some ways heavier than its predecessor, whilst at the same time being a lot cleaner.
People have looked at me askance a few times when I’ve said that. Heavier than its predecessor? When most people seemed to think that was the big problem with that album, that it was too heavy, too overbearing? Well The National have a real weight to their music, without being sonically cluttered in the slightest. A Leaving Song might sound a little like ‘Oh, Broken Records with more guitars’, but Modern Worksong builds up to one of their fraught crescendoes, and then breaks into a skittering piano and drum refrain. To me this shows that for all they have retained their penchant for Big Sound, there is a newfound clarity of arrangement and ability to use certain tools in their armoury more sparingly, in order to give them more impact.
Dia dos Namorados, which follows, never attempts the highs for which the band frequently reach, and this restraint is something they use well on this album. It punctuates the mood perfectly, retaining the heavy, foreboding atmosphere, but creating an important break in the prevalent aural textures. The Motorycle Boy picks the drama back up, but keeps the tempo slow, so by the time pop gem A Darkness Rises Up hits, you are entirely ready for the release of giddy foot-tapping once more.
All in all, this is fucking great record. It addresses a lot of the criticisms of the first one, without ever feeling like the band have allowed themselves to be deflected by other people’s opinions of what they should be doing. It shifts from the rattling pace of Modern Worksong, to the ominous march of Dia dos Namorados, to the air-punching Springsteenisms of the Cracks in the Wall and finally to the gorgeous closer Home in under forty minutes. Disciplined, full of ideas, and while there are a couple of mainstream radio sounds in there – most obviously for me A Motorcycle Boy I guess – you have to remember that that is what the band are actually aiming for: something which is interesting enough for snobs like me to like, which it is, and yet populist enough to cross over to mainstream interest. If this album doesn’t achieve a fair bit of that, then it won’t be by much.
The simple music fan in me just loves Let Me Come Home. It tugs at all the emotions, from schmaltz to grief to joy to aggression. And then a part of me remembers the reception their previous album ‘enjoyed’ and thinks ‘See! See! This
is why I wouldn’t stop telling you how fucking good these guys are.’
Broken Records - Let Me Come Home - Teaser Trailer
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Photo Credit: Ickle Rosie