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The National: Alligator

 
Alligator's (Beggars Banquet) opening number, "Secret Meeting", has the oft-repeated line, "I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain...". You may not know it, but you've been invited or dragged along to this meeting; and this is the group support meeting of all group support meetings. Forget Edward Norton's character in Fight Club, addicted to support meetings for everything under the sun, forget what he saw and heard; this is a meeting between a man and his reflection... with a stark, bare bulb swinging back and forth above his troubled head. Although if you are familiar with just a part of this bands catalogue, then you know this is their territory.

The National's Alligator did show dark promise with early previews of the tracks, "All The Wine" and "Abel". But repeated listening to the album has exposed cracks; in Matt Berninger's singing, in the songs themselves, and even in the, "...perfect piece of ass...", belonging to the singing narrator of "All The Wine". In fact, this is the first album of The National's I have had a chance to listen to in whole (no pun intended). Previous exposure was random mp3s found online, and these were for the most part very memorable songs, "Wasp Nest", "Murder Me Rachael", and "Son".

Yes, Berninger has a fascinating voice, but it clearly has its limits and they become evident over the playing of an entire album. He can also turn a nice phrase from time to time, but he underscores them with lines as bland as the good ones shine. Vocally, he is, in Hollywood parlance, a 'personality', as opposed to a gifted thespian. Jeff Buckley was a gifted thespian, a musical Brando, Clift, or Dean. Berninger is more a-kin to a movie 'star', his 'personality' shines on record, he's a John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart, even closer still to a B-movie star like Ronald Reagan (I'm trying to avoid current movie stars here).

This album is a slow grower and if the atmospheric music generated by the dual brother pairings of the Dessners and the Devendorfs, or the misleadingly laid-back rumble of Berninger's vocal doesn't grab you right off, you may not give this disc the chance it needs to take root. It's a good record, one that some will label great... just not me.

Alan Williamson *sixeyes

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