The National went from indie-rock darlings to mainstream stars, thanks to their 2010 breakthrough "High Violet." Judging from the Brooklyn band's new album, "Trouble Will Find Me" (4AD), expected to debut in the Top 5 and set up its upcoming arena shows, they may actually miss being the underdogs.
Though singer Matt Berninger's distinctive baritone will always sound a bit gloomy, even when he isn't worrying about the future or his own shortcomings, the music provided by the Dessner brothers, guitarists Aaron and Bryce, is getting smoother. The acoustic opening to "Fireproof" would sound more at home on a Sting album than anything in The National catalog. Even the single "Sea of Love," where Berninger worries, "If I stay here, trouble will find me," the music, aside from Bryan Devendorf's rapid-fire drumming, is a bit too subtle.
"Trouble Will Find Me" is designed to be more of an atmospheric album, one that conjures an overall mood rather than creating individual, memorable songs. However, the musical repetition and Berninger's similar vocal approaches tend to drag in places, something that never happened on "High Violet."
Its surroundings make the bouncy "Don't Swallow the Cap" stand out even more, just like Berninger's goofy lyrics in "Humiliation." ("I was teething on roses," he deadpans, "I was in guns and noses.") On "Pink Rabbits," the band strikes a balance between pretty atmospherics and studied detachment.
However, too often on "Trouble Will Find Me" the songs feel like they are somehow less than their elegant, well-crafted parts. Maybe a little more struggling would help.
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"Trouble Will Find Me"
BOTTOM LINE Rock that's maybe not troubled enough