Masterful storytellers The National return with their melodic ninth album First Two Pages of Frankenstein.
It’s become commonplace in recent years for artists to explore the rollercoaster of emotions experienced during the pandemic through their music. Frontman Matt Berninger explained to Apple Music the difficulties he experienced trying to write new music during this time: “I was burned out on introspection and self-analysis and making all these songs about complicated personal things.” With time and patience, he was able to find comfort in music again and he began to write.
First Two Pages of Frankenstein is the band’s first release this decade following the 2019 release of I Am Easy to Find. It’s a heart-wrenching record filled with nostalgia and uncertain hope for the future. Mostly, it’s a culmination of the thoughts and fears that wracked Berninger laid out across eleven tracks. Within each, The National expertly tell a different story, painting the scene with crystal clear details and imagery.
“New Order T-Shirt” is filled to the brim with golden details regarding past memories that can’t be let go of: a cat and a glass of beer, a Kentucky aquarium, a magazine skyscraper. It’s a collection of memories of seemingly unimportant moments that never quite leave no matter how much time has passed. They’re the ones you desperately cling to for as long as you can.
In “Tropic Morning News,” Berninger sings about the constant onslaught of bad news and admitting that there is a problem needing addressing: “There’s nothing stopping me now / From saying all the painful parts out loud.” It seems to be a nod to Berninger’s own struggle which he dismissed until it became too big of a problem to ignore. This sentiment is continued in the following track, “Alien,” where he sings, “Avalanches in my mind / I’m getting buried in this dream.”
The closing track, “Send For Me,” is a song about support and being someone to lean on. Its style is the same as the rest of the album, but this time offers help instead of asking for it. Just as Berninger’s bandmates supported him through his musical drought, he offers up the same.
The album includes features on four tracks by Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Taylor Swift. Each feature is well-chosen, their voices blending perfectly with The National’s own singer. Berninger shares the spotlight with Stevens on the opening track “Once Upon a Poolside,” a reflective song about what once was and grappling with change: “Everything is different, why do I feel the same?” Bridgers joins in on “This Isn’t Helping” and “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend.” Known for her angst-ridden tunes and melancholic vocals, Bridgers makes the perfect addition to two tracks about interpersonal and intrapersonal struggles. The final featuring artist, Swift, can be found in the seventh track, “The Alcott.” As with the others, Swift is a welcome addition to the album which is not so unlike her own, Evermore, on which The National is featured.
Quiet vocals and meaningful lyrics are fundamental to The National’s discography. With nine albums now under their belt, it’s safe to say that the band have mastered the art of storytelling. From tales of intimacy to human connection and loss, there is a song for just about anything. If it’s comfort you’re looking for, then look no further.