I have written and talked a lot over the years of the importance of an album. In today’s age of streaming, playlists, tik tok trends (that I don’t understand) it is of utmost importance that we don’t lose sight of what an album can do for us and the value it has to our societies and culture. How a collection of songs can transport us to a different time and place, capture our feelings, lift our moods, help us to feel better about ourselves, find our place in the world, give us a sense of community a sense of belonging. The album is an art form that we must always cherish and value.
First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the latest album by The National, further strengthens this argument. This is without question everything an album should be. If you spend your time scrolling through tik tok videos you are very likely to miss this wonderful piece of art. Your time would be so much better spent by giving up 47 minutes of your life and devout your full attention to the eleven songs that flow in such a natural way. It is arguably the band's finest record to date and that really is saying something given the quality of this band's back catalogue.
The album is bookended by two fragile and vulnerable songs Once Upon a Poolside and Send For Me that capture everything this album is about. This is not an album full of anthemic choruses. This is an album about rediscovering your love for the things that matter to you. This is an album about the importance of friendships and how we rely on a close circle of people in our lives to help us at the times when we need it most. As a band The National had to fall back in love with the idea of the band to record this album. It is through those friendships, allowing each other the time and space that was needed, not putting pressure on each other, adapting certain styles, and recording techniques to suit where the band are right now that enabled First Two Pages of Frankenstein to come together in such a remarkable way.
Matt Berringer has talked about how difficult he has found it over recent years to write songs. He has lived through depression and the pandemic and the thing that he has always done stopped coming so natural to him. Tropic Morning News sees Matt pour out his emotions about how hard the last few years have been and how difficult living with depression can be “I was suffering more than I let on”.
In an interview with Steve Lamacq on 6 Music, Matt talked about how he had to think about the things he was afraid of losing and started to write about how that would feel. The result of that is Eucalyptus, a song about a relationship ending and what do we do with the life that we have built, all the things we have collected, the subscriptions we have, the undeveloped cameras. It is such an incredible song that captures the thing that I am sure many of us fear. I also found a sense of humour in these lyrics “You should take it / I’m only going to break it”. When I heard that line I instantly imagined myself in that situation, and could see myself saying the same thing. Of course I would break that ornament so you might as well keep it. Matt has commented that his relationships are in a good place (as are mine) but I completely relate to those feelings and the importance of writing about the things you are afraid of happening.
Nostalgia is also captured in this album. New Order T-Shirt is a wonderful song about simpler times. “I keep what I can of you / Split-second glimpses and snapshots and sounds / You in my New Order T-Shirt / Holding a cat and a glass of beer”. This is a love song for days gone by, a world that no longer exists but we can visit with our thoughts and memories.
Two of the worlds best songwriters whose stories will forever be entwined with that of The National are Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift both of whom feature on this album. Phoebe provides vocals on This Isn’t Helping a mesmerising song that seems to see Matt comparing himself to someone who sees the beauty in everything and longing to be able to do that “You find beauty in anything / Whenever you look down into a sewer / You see a diamond ring”. Phoebe also features on another of the albums pivotal songs Your Mind Is Not Your Friend a tender, heart aching piano ballad that is built around a line that Matts wife said to him during his depression telling him that your mind is not your friend. This is such a powerful song about mental health and how we can at times let unhelpful thoughts dominate our thinking “Your imagination / Is in an awful place / Don’t believe in manifestation / Your heart will break.” Taylor Swift joins in with The Alcott, an honest, heart breaking song about relationships ending, “Give me some tips to forget you” those fears of meeting someone, and falling back in love. “I see you smile when you see its me / I had to do something to break into your golden thinking”.
As albums go it really does not get much better than this. First Two Pages of Frankenstein may well have been the hardest album The National found to write, yet it shows that great things can come from the darkness. By falling back in love with the band, through those strong friendships that have been built over the years, the love and help from those that are in The Nationals close circle they have given the world an album that so many will be able to relate to. An album that will give people a voice when they feel they can’t be heard. An album that will speak to people in times of darkness and in so doing will give hope and a realisation that those dark clouds won’t last forever.