When any band or solo artist creates a substantial body of work and the inevitable ‘what’s your favourite album by that act’ discussions come up, it’s easy to be derided for choosing the most commercially successful of that acts' records. Yet I’m quite happy to admit that some of my personal bests are the big hitters. U2’s Joshua Tree, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love and The Cure’s Disintegration are all records that, of those particular artists, mean the most to me. Likewise, The National’s High Violet, the band’s 2010 album, sits easily within my albums of the decade list.
But once a band has released an album that endears itself so powerfully to you, there’s a danger that having fallen completely in love, any other relationship will always seem slightly inferior. That’s certainly what I found with the 2013 follow up Trouble Will Find Me. Despite some superbly crafted material (I Need My Girl in particular is an exemplary song) it just never found a place in my heart in the same way as High Violet did.
Now, four years on, my favourite band that look like a bunch of Geography professors return with their seventh album. Sleep Well Beast will be released on September 8th through 4AD records and the band will be touring extensively – the opening date of that tour being Glastonbury Festival, but UK fans can also find them playing a number of dates in Edinburgh, Manchester and at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The first single to be taken from it is called The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness. It is, I'm very pleased to say, very good.
Instantly recognisable as The National due to Matt Berninger’s gorgeous baritone, the first things that strike me about the song is the taught guitar riff that eventually leads into a full on solo (we just don't get enough proper guitar solos these days, so it's good to have one here), the simple repeated piano backing, lyrics about talking to God, loss of no other faith and dying of lonely secrets. Then there’s the fan pleasing moment when Matt sings ‘I can’t explain it, any other, any other way,” a lyric that sounds ready and ripe for 1000s to sing out together at the gigs.
I doubt anything will ever surpass High Violet for me, but having just played The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness twelve times on repeat I can confirm that this is a very fine return.
The National - The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness (Video)