When The National first got popular, after several years on the fringes of success, their critics dismissed them as miserable middle-aged men making music for miserable middle-aged men. Well they’re my favourite band so I guess that’s me.
The band responded with as much humour as forberarance by celebrating that status, creating a merch line of T-shirts and hoodies with the legend: “Sad Dads.” I guess that’s me too.
Yesterday they released a new album called Laugh Track which I suppose is another ironic dig at those critics, though I’ve always found a thread of sardonic humour amid the melancholia in their literate lyrics.
There are a handful of collaborations, as has been their wont in recent times – with Phoebe Bridgers, with Roseanne Cash and, here, with Bon Iver – but mostly it’s The National doing what The National do best.
Slow-burning songs filled with sadness and beauty, with lyrics that lie somewhere between short stories and poetry, they’re sung in that sombre baritone by Matt Berninger, who has always looked like a professor of comparative literature from a minor East Coast university and does so even more now that he’s in his fifties.
Despite having moved his family to sunny California a few years ago, I still picture him nobly defying the elements, huddled against wind and rain (or snow) in a big coat among autumn leaves far more easily than cycling around Venice Beach in a T-shirt and shorts.
Anyway, this song…. well, I cannot express how much I love it. And some of the comments on YouTube capture its qualities exactly: “This song feels like finally driving home after a life changing event,” writes one, perfectly encapsulating its emotional punch.
“This song is that weird sad feeling, something like mid-life despair,” writes another. “Time is going by and you’re getting older and can’t shake how temporal existence is.”