Decade :: The National, Boxer (2007)

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What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.

From the beginning of October through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections — tell us why you agree or disagree — and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.

boxerThere are so many things worth remembering: voices spoken, drinks clinked, the sun’s perpetual rise.   On Boxer, the National roll up their sleeves and try to get the sweat back into their smallest memories, raging against the dying of their romantic youth and trying like hell to avoid the mechanistic thromps of adulthood.

Refusing to grow up ain’t nothing new in rock ‘n’ roll, but it doesn’t usually sound this pretty, or this urgent, or (most of all) this inevitable.   Singer Matt Berninger writes about people who have already slipped past the graces that give life kicks.   The young martyrs keep to their oxford-sleeved underlining, the new pros lose their glow, and not even the angels want to watch “another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults” in “Mistaken for Strangers”, their lives lost in a jumble of bad grammar and lost chances.

But like any good writer, Berninger is smart enough to realize that routine doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of love between lovers.   “I want to hurry home to you, put on a slow, dumb show for you, and crack you up”, he sings over “Slow Show”, the album’s best track.   Elsewhere, “Apartment Story” paints a somewhat-comforting picture of domestic hibernation that doesn’t promise existential fulfillment so much as it does borderline sufficiency.   It’s the couples here who win; those who fight alone end up bloody.

Berninger’s lyrics rightly garnered most of the attention upon Boxer’s release, and the ensuing two and a half years have been good to them.   But part of what makes Boxer continue to work is the elegant structures of these songs, the way that they make Berninger’s small stories from big cities seem to matter.   These are, after all, songs about people lost in the abysses of corporate life, swimming through from the world of individuality and creativity into what looks from the outset like rank-and-file.   Boxer’s songs–the punchy elegance of “Fake Empire”, the warm keys of “Apartment Story”–beg to differ.   The band seem to know something that Berninger’s subjects have yet to realize: behind every single neck tie is a beating heart. words/ m garner

MP3: The National :: Mistaken for Strangers
MP3: The National :: Slow Show

14 thoughts on “Decade :: The National, Boxer (2007)

  1. This is certainly one of my most cherished listening experiences of what has been an excellent decade. Best of all, it only keeps on revealing itself as you listen further.

    Thanks for summing up the many charms of ‘Boxer’ so eloquently.

  2. I comment rarely, but this short review is a sharp summary of the power of the record. nice work.

  3. I turned on to The National with Alligator which I thought was amazing front to back. I then discovered their previous two full lengths and ep. Then comes Boxer. Love their progression as a band. Congrats and keep it going.

  4. i have been pretty on-board with the general sense of greatness surrounding many of this decade’s notable releases and have agreed whole-heartdely with all of the “Decade” features here @AD thus far; but the “greatness” of this album has been lost on me since the initial buzz around its release. i am not the type to disparage musicians for their vision, but i never liked anything about this record at all. i would be fine to simply file it the “no thank you” bin, but it is SO lauded, even REVERED, in the classicist sector of the indie rock community that i cannot help but feel like there’s something i must have missed here. can someone that loves this album please email at cqmurphy AT gmail DOT com to with some sort of “in” or “hook” to this record so i can have another go at not feeling ignorant.

  5. I have to agree with cqmurphy on this one. The National, like The Strokes, are sort of like George Clooney. They pervade a sense of coolness that far too many people buy into when, in essence, there is very little substance there at all.

  6. Off tne subject, but The Yahoo Player is skipping these two tracks and jumps righ into The Roots, there must be something wrong with the link…

  7. Nice review and fantastic record. @cqmurphy Have you heard “Fake Empire”?

    I’m more a fan of Alligator than The Boxer, but both are easily amongst the best of the past 10 years.

  8. i HAVE heard fake empire. i find the vocal arrestingly beautiful, but the whole drums playing in a different meter than the rest of the track is really distracting. it sounds very forced – like the band is being rather obtuse about the possibility of this song being immediately accessible. i have listened to this whole record through 3 or 4 times and i just don’t get it. makes me sad.

  9. I first encountered the National via Alligator, and although I agree with this review, I find their best effort IMHO is The National, The National. it would be the National selection on my decade list.

    Check out “Bitters & Absolut” for some incredibly insightful lyrics and a beautiful song structure or “Pay for me”. Funny enough, I know a number of people who agree with cqmurphy on Boxer, who have honestly tried to get it, and don’t and I think that’s great because what bore it would be if we all agreed on taste!

  10. i don’t think comparing the national to the strokes is very accurate. have you ever seen the national? they are certainly not all that cool or suave. also, the strokes were more or less, an overnight sensation. the national toured the country playing shit holes and had 2 LP’s out before alligator. i suppose some people think it’s “cool” to like the national but i really believe they succeeded on the strength of their songwriting and live shows.

  11. @cqmurphy: I had never heard of the National before I read this, but I’ve listened to this record now, and I do find it beautiful, I like the complexities lying under the simple voice, I think it works well, and more than anything it feels urgent because of it (like the reviewer said). Maybe it just appeals to people who have experienced what they are talking about, the mind-numbing-ness of the common inelegance of adulthood and trying to not fall into it. Maybe I’m just at the stage where I’m seeing that inevitability even for people who are doing creative things, and that’s why this record speaks to me.

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