Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cherry Tree - The National

Cherry Tree
The National
Brassland  Hwy 008

I saw the National play the Hollywood Bowl as part of the "High Violet" tour and they blew me away.  I was really surprised by how exciting their performance was, I love their albums but they generally seem so somber and melancholy.  Their live show was electrifying, Matt Berninger is such a dynamic performer, he actually crowd surfed, no easy feat at the Bowl where the pit is full of rich guys sitting at tables sipping wine and munching on chicken.  Near the end of the set Berninger picked up the onstage clock that tells the performers how much time they have left before the Bowl curfew and tossed it off the stage.  I think he would have played all night if they would have let him.  This was their third album, more of a mini-album really since it clocks in at just under 30 minutes.  It contains six new songs plus a live version of "Murder Me Rachael" from their second album.  It begins with "Wasp's Nest" which describes a woman the narrator desires.  I don't know how many women would be flattered to be called a wasp's nest, but the song is pretty romantic.  The woman sounds like trouble but apparently she is worth the risk.  I love the verse "you're all humming live wires under your killing clothes," such an evocative line.  The song features a seductive vocal from Berninger that utilizes his deep voice to great effect and it is full of lovely chiming guitar sounds and curiously the steady ringing of bells suggestive of a sleigh ride.  The pace picks up with "All The Wine" which is so good that the group stuck it on their next album, "Alligator" as well.  It is a wine-fueled statement of omnipotence and exuberance driven by riffing guitars and a rocking beat.  "All Dolled-Up In Straps" couldn't be more different.  It is a creepy statement of jealousy and paranoia with a moody melody featuring the melancholy drone of strings and stately piano chords.  "Cherry Tree" is in a similar vein as the strings and piano again take charge of the musical color and Berninger evokes another tormented narrator, although in this case the subject of the song is desperately trying to avoid hearing the truth about his deteriorating relationship.  It is a stunning song, it creates the tension and power that the National are so good at provoking with their best songs.  "About Today" could be a sequel to "Cherry Tree."  In this song the narrator has realized that his relationship is ending and is conveying his sense of helplessness about being powerless to stop it.  It is a sad, quiet song with Berninger murmuring the words accompanied by a gorgeous string arrangement.  Aside from maybe Belle and Sebastian I can't think of another rock group that utilizes strings as well as the National do.  The record changes direction again with a ferocious live version of "Murder Me Rachael" from a French broadcast.  If I had bought this record prior to seeing the National at the Bowl I would have had some idea of the maniac within Berninger that is unleashed in concerts.  This is the hardest rocking song on the album but thematically this expression of jealous rage and insecurity is totally consistent with the other dysfunctional relationships described on the record.  The album ends with "Reasonable Man (I Don't Mind) which was written by Padma Newsome who often plays with the band on tours and who does their string arrangements and orchestrations.  Newsome and Berninger duet on the song which is a quiet acoustic number with a pair of delicate string solos.  It is the flipside of all these songs about the irrationality of love, in this case the narrator is too cautious and rational to acquire and retain the object of his affection.  Compared to the greatness of "Alligator," "Boxer" and "High Violet" this record is kind of minor in the National's oeuvre, but I find that I play it quite a bit.  All the songs are worthwhile and a couple of them rank among the band's best songs so if you are a fan you definitely should have this and it sounds great on vinyl.  Recommended to high-strung Leonard Cohen fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment