[sic] Magazine

The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

First Two Pages of Frankenstein is the ninth studio album from The National. The LP is the eventual fruit of the bands lengthy battle with writers block, particularly singer, Matt Berninger who suffered lyrical and melodic inertia for the better part of a year. Covid19 didn’t help, keeping the members remote from each other. At various moments they gave serious consideration toward ending The National as a band. Happily they managed to extract themselves from their malaise. The beginning of Mary Shelleys book played a role in that – hence the title of the album.

…Frankenstein is a ‘back to basics’ record for The National. The two LPs that preceded this one were relatively experimental, yielding mixed results and responses. Both previous albums took risks but they also contained some of the bands finest work to date. In comparison this new one is somewhat less ambitious and therefore less divisive. Thematically …Frankenstein is the anti-Boxer. That was the wedding album, this is the breakup album with the Slow Shows and Apartment Stories having given way to divvying up the Apartment contents. Many songs here are variations on themes of middle aged acceptance of separation, be it in someone’s romantic couple or as a metaphor for the band almost splitting.

As with I Am Easy To Find, the songs with guest singers elevate proceedings. Phoebe Bridgers particularly suits the band, offering light and hope to offset Matts world-weary shade. Soft drum patterns and light musical arrangements seal the deal. However there are signs of The National plateauing. No new ground is explored here. The outstanding ‘Your Mind Is Not Your Friend’ bears close resemblance to 2011 standalone single ‘Exile Vilify’. ‘This Isn’t Helping’ is another stunner as is ‘The Alcott’ (with Taylor Swift) but a couple of other tracks do feel a bit ‘National by numbers’. ‘New Order T-Shirt’ meanders harmlessly and the closing track ‘Send For Me’ is understated rather than climactic making the end of the record feel abrupt as a result. No matter. It’s an easy repeat listen and in ‘Eucalyptus’, and certainly ‘Grease In Your Hair’, the band may have added staples to their live set for years to come.

With such a body of work behind them, haven’t The National earned the right to coast a little, to self-reference at times and just be…good? By definition, not every release can be a bands ‘best’. If we proclaim any album as such what are we then saying about the others? This is the plateau upon which I’m willing to die. They could remain like this. After all, The National are already authors of bona fide masterpieces. It doesn’t even matter which album is their masterpiece. The point is they remain the masters.


I Am Easy To Find – review

Editorial feature from 2010, (with missing photos)