After five albums and 14 years together, the National are at their most confident and forthright in their disenchantment and melancholy on their sixth album. It's certainly not simple sadness and resignation, and it's by no means a depressing album. But thoughthere's an ongoing theme of striving for a greater sense of satisfaction and finding ways to be less breakable, there's also a deep undercurrent of beautiful wallowing.
There's heartbreak, there's bewilderment, apologies and questions. Matt Berninger's familiar rich baritone continues to reel listeners in, and his lyrics are more direct than ever - though there are moments when it's not quite clear whether he's aiming for levity and humour, perhaps irony, or if he's dead serious about a phrase like: "It's not a fever. It's a freezer".
It actually works either way, and he seems to have had a little fun injecting references from Guns 'N Roses, to Let It Be and Nevermind, and rhyming grace with vase seems kind of knowingly hokey.
It's almost conversational, confessional, diary-like in parts - I Need My Girl sees him at his most openly vulnerable, and closing track Hard to Find feels like he's found a little peace and resolution, while still holding on to a memory.
Musically they've spun an almost mesmeric web. There are some lovely, uneven time signatures in I Should Live in Salt (an album highlight), and unexpected phrasing that somehow becomes instantly memorable throughout, all supported by the warm, throbbing instrumentation - guitars and drums to the fore, orchestral layers kept subtle. Graceless stands out, sounding like the sister song to their hit single Bloodbuzz Ohio, and Slipped is an exquisitely honest break-up ballad, achingly lonely.
Sure there are places where they're waving a similar musical paintbrush to U2 or Coldplay (Heavenfaced or Humiliation) - except that rather than a palette containing all the colours of the rainbow, they're content with hues of brown, black, and maybe a splash of blue. And Berninger's voice will never sound desperate to let rip in a stadium - though with these songs they may soon be able to fill one.
Verdict: More beautiful wallowing
Click here to buy Trouble Will Find Me by The National.