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AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #95 : THE NATIONAL

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In the past I’ve tended to sort of beat myself up trying to pen the various ICAs, often saying far too much to justify a particular song choice at the expense of another. This time I’m going to try to be a bit more concise as I pull together a 10-track compilation by The National.

Since forming in Cincinnati in 1999, this five-piece band have, in a career path sort of similar to early R.E.M., built up a following through a combination of increasingly good songs with the desire and willingness to graft for their art. They have released six LPs this far, from a self-titled debut in 2001 through to Trouble Will Find Me in 2013. This ICA is going to feature only songs that have been lifted from their third, fourth and fifth albums as, IMHO, they represent an era when they were truly at the top of their game and no band on the plane came close to matching their quality and consistency over the five-year period concerned.

Side A

1. Secret Meeting (from Alligator, 2005)

The opening track of the album that brought them to a wider audience thanks to it featuring in so many end of year lists/polls. A track which progressively builds up to the point where the rest of the band join in with a chant of a line that is hard to decipher but has little to do with anything else sung beforehand. Enchanting and intriguing. And what’s not to love about a song that has the free form poetry of ‘I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses, I know’

2. Mistaken For Strangers (from Boxer, 2007)

The key to maintaining the momentum from that initial appearance on the critics list is to make your next record every bit as good, if not better. There was a real sense of ‘wow’ when Boxer hit the shops with America embracing the band as the latest potential saviours of alt/indie/radio friendly guitar music. The band was really busy in the aftermath of this record – it coincided with my short spell working in Toronto and The National seemed to be regulars on all the half decent radio stations with this song regularly aired.

3. Apartment Story (from Boxer, 2005)

Like so many songs by this band, the lyrics are open to all sorts of interpretation. This could be about a couple stuck inside while some sort of disaster outside unfolds but I prefer to think of it being a wonderful love song that celebrates,without being the least bit sweet or icky, that magical time in a relationship when you can happily imagine being in a bubble with your other half and to hell with what is happening out there in the real world.

4. Conversation 16 (from High Violet, 2010)

I have no idea what this is about. I thought at first listen it was a parody of American Psycho with the suggestion of cannibalism; later listens made me think about a control freak agonising over his fragile relationship. Then I saw the promo video featuring the wonderful Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords) as a female president of the USA and John Slattery (Mad Men) as a besotted aide and I got totally thrown. So just take it for being the wonderful song it is.

5. Abel (from Alligator, 2005)

One of two really uptempo numbers towards the tail end of Alligator, I always thought this was strangely placed, sandwiched between two slow numbers. It can sort of jar somewhat in that contect given its loud, fierce energy comes along rather unexpectedly but I think it makes for a perfect ending to the first side of this piece of high quality 12″ vinyl.

SIDE B

1. Daughters Of The Soho Riots (from Alligator, 2005)

Curveball time. This is a band who have produced some very beautiful slow songs. Just feels right to start the second side with one of their finest.

2. Slow Show (from Boxer, 2007)

Another stunning love song. That sensation of no matter how bad your day has been, you have the solace of a warm embrace waiting for you when you turn the key into the lock of your front door.

3. Bloodbuzz Ohio (from High Violet, 2010)

This sounds like Paul Quinn on vocals. I think that has a lot to do with why I love this band so much. It’s just an outstanding piece of music that I want to sing along with every single fucking time. And then go apeshit crazy on the dance floor for its concluding instrumental section. This would be very high up in any updated 55 45s at 55 listing in a couple of years time (not that I’m going to inflict that on you).

4. Start A War (from Boxer, 2007)

Another slow one. Just seems to flow perfectly on from the previous track.

5. Mr November (from Alligator, 2005)

This ICA opened with the first track from the breakthrough album and it seems right to end it with the frantic and energetic closer. A particular favourite in the live setting. Along with the Super Furry Animals trademark number, this is the greatest song to repeatedly used the word ‘fuck’ in the lyric.

I enjoyed compiling this.  Hope some of you enjoy listening. It’s less than 40 minutes long all told

mp3 : Side A
mp3 : Side B

The individual songs can be obtained from clicking the title in the narrative.

BLUE JEANS AND CHINOS; COKE, PEPSI AND OREOS (Part 4)

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A few years ago, any blogger who was featuring The National would probably have needed to provide all sorts of background information on a band that was seemingly destined for nothing more than critical acclaim.  Three albums released between 2001 and 2005 sold in modest numbers.

Things changed a lot in 2007 with the release of  Boxer.  It topped all sorts of end of year polls and the band began to get a lot of mainstream exposure in the USA with regular appearances on the late night chat shows that pull in tens of millions of viewers.  The LP didn’t crack the charts but instead sold enough copies over an extended period of time to provide The National with a much wider fan-base and so create a platform for a concerted crack at fame and fortune which duly came in 2010 with High Violet, a record that went Top 10 in the album charts the world over.

The career trajectory is similar to that experienced two decades ago by R.E.M.

Just as similarly, there is a bit of a backlash against the band with fans of old accusing them of selling-out and releasing material that is far inferior to that of the poorly-selling early years.  This fan disagrees although will admit to being a wee bit let down by Trouble Will Find Me that  was released at the beginning of 2013….and by the fact that the recent UK and Ireland tour completely omitted gigs in Scotland.  I’m almost certain they will end up on the bill of T in the Park 2014 but that’s no consolation at all for those of us who hate festivals/outdoor gigs.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite single of theirs backed with an absolute belter of a song that was wasted as a mere b-side:-

mp3 : The National – Mistaken For Strangers

mp3 : The National – Blank Slate

Enjoy!