The National – Alligator

The National
Alligator

Sometimes the best Manchesterian’s are from bloody Brooklyn. Three distinctly excellent albums into their career, the guys in Brooklyn’s The National have made their bread and butter by putting a brooding and literate spin on the sounds established by the Manchester madmen once called Joy Division. Alligator, which follows last 2003’s solid Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, is their best effort to date, and it’s as good as anything coming out of Britain today. It’s a dense, melodic, 13-track tour of the King’s Fookin’ English as uttered by The National’s lovelorn and literate frontman Matt Berringer.

Working with Interpol producer Peter Katis, The National crafted a melodically diverse and meandering batch of songs ranging from the riotous rave-up “Abel” to the doleful “Daughter of the SoHo Riots.” Brooding or blasting, none of these songs would be nearly as fun if they weren’t sung in an ersatz English accent made of equal parts dulled-out Morrisey and caffeinated Nick Cave. The mopey, drunken intimacies of downtempo songs like “Val Jester,” “Geese of Beverly Road,” and “City Middle” are augmented by the anthemic grace of “Lit Up” and “Abel” and the ascendant “All the Wine.”

The National seems to have settled into a fine balance between the hungover brooding of Leonard Cohen and the more mellifluous tendencies of Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. More impressive than the fluid, find-a-melody-anywhere guitar and bass work of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dressner is Berrigner’s bottomed-out baritone. The quirky and cerebral nature of Berringer’s lyrics (like “I’ve got 500 in twenties and I’ve got a ton of good ideas” as he puts it on “City Middle”) serves as the perfect compliment to his band’s knack for finding infectious tones. Like Michael Stipe, Berringer is surrounded by swirlingly unique melodies and as a lyricist he has the rare talent to be emotionally resonant without being immediately decipherable. In most cases (Stipe, Malkmus, Merrit) this quality lead to a certain type of indie stardom. Berringer’s fate seems to be equally hopeful.

Alligator, dense and unfocused as it its, has the qualities of a near-classic, and Berringer, if there’s any justice, is a star in the making. “I’m the new blue blood / I’m the great white hope” Berringer croons on “Mr. November,” the album’s closing track. We should be so lucky.