This here is an example of one of those situations where you like a band so much, a band that can do no wrong in your eyes, that has consistently put out great album after great album, but one that you can’t fathom its talented parts making music outside of the near perfect whole. You don’t want to listen to solo material from any of its members, least of all that of its golden-voiced lead singer. You don’t want to like it. You don’t want there to be even more solo material released to take away from the possibility of another great album from the singer’s band.
Okay. Maybe it was just me.
To be honest, I know a lot of diehard fans of The National that couldn’t wait for Matt Berninger’s debut solo album and that ate it up the moment it was released. Perhaps curmudgeonly, I probably waited two or three weeks after its mid-October release date before I gave in and tracked it down on the Spotify. And though it didn’t necessarily push any of my favourite albums of the year out of the top ten that had pretty much been set by that point, I couldn’t bring myself to hate “Serpentine prison”. Scratch that, I couldn’t even bring myself to discount the album as subpar. Nope. It was actually quite lovely.
In spite of myself, I was especially enamoured by track two, pretty much from the first few seconds of impassioned guitar strumming. That intro, mired in smoky washes, smacked nostalgically of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” or James’s “Ring the bells”, but when Berninger’s fine baritone crackled in, those similarities faded right away into the ether. “Distant axis” is like a howling in the night, a call out between lost lovers, a demand for warmth and understanding. It’s a message that Berninger delivers as if out of breath, as if he had just run the length of a cold and cloudy beach in the hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse of hair or a slip of a dress. And he almost seems resigned to his fate.
“There’s a pattern to the way the world is tearin’ up
I think it’s happening to me”
With tracks this heartbreaking, I’d be hard pressed not to hope for more solo material from Matt Berninger.
But not at the expense of a new National record…
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.