1. The National High Violet
For a band accustomed to organic, incremental growth, 2010 will go down as The National’s Great Leap Forward. No longer are they your National; the band you’ve been telling your friends about since someone thrust a worn out copy of Alligator into your hands five years ago, pledging it would change your life (I’m speculating that most fans visited the earlier albums retrospectively). 2010 was the year The National out-Nationaled themselves and went global, becoming the most universally loved band on the planet in the process. The secret’s out: they’re Everybody’s National now.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the transformation took place, but the shoots of growth were sprinkled amongst the first blooming daffodils of spring. There was the early recorded performance of ‘Terrible Love’ on The Jimmy Fallon Show that went viral, leaving us wondering if the opening bars to High Violet were really to sound so gauzy. There was that sell out show at the Royal Albert Hall in May, rapturously received. And amidst all the eulogistic reviews that greeted the album’s release, there was the small matter of chart success: #5 on this side of the Atlantic, thank you very much.
But the difference between The National making such a transition and, say, REM doing the same in the late eighties / early nineties, is that with High Violet, they haven’t made a populist shift, sonically. The progression from the edginess of Alligator, to the majesty of Boxer was a natural evolution, borne out in the lyrical themes softened between the two records. High Violet is a hybrid record, of sorts. It is more ruffled than Boxer, yet retains the orchestral beauty and polish, marrying the two preexisting instances of The National into one magnificent whole.
Their methodology didn’t change one bit. The band are affirmed perfectionists and their ethos stood firm in the recording of High Violet. What did change, perhaps, is the scale of the sound on the album. This is a bigger record than any of its predecessors; not in the stadium-bothering ilk of U2 or Kings of Leon, but in terms of sheer gravitas. The songs, leaden with Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner’s welling strings, are enormous, brooding entities bolstered the menace in Matt Berninger’s vocals.
Finally, the penny dropped, with an almighty thud that forced everyone to sit up and take notice. The National are successful because they deserve to be. High Violet is the best album of 2010.
First published here.