High Violet is the fifth studio album by The National and is their best. Rather like REM, The National give substantial weight to the argument of letting bands slowly develop, perfecting their craft and growing in both critical and commercial stature.
High Violet is not a huge ballsy album that comes gate crashing the party through your front door, more the kind of recording that sits around in the back garden smoking with your friends and then as the evening develops, slowly sidles up, plants a gentle red wine kiss on your cheek and whispers “let’s go to bed.” It’s gradual and seductive charm is impossible to ignore.
With this record The National have produced a slow burning and addictive masterpiece. It’s a richly textured and utterly beguiling piece of work that relies on four simple ingredients - Matt Berninger’s baritone - reminiscent of Stuart Staples from the Tindersticks, intriguing lyrics that on paper often seem ridiculous but when performed make perfect sense, take for example Berninger intoning “I was afraid I’d eat your brains ’cos I’m evil,” on Conversation 16, plus the subtle and perfectly executed musicianship and songs.
What The National do with High Violet is show that it is still possible to make beautiful rock music formed from sadness and neuroses as adults. The touching piano led England talks of being “afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners” and during Afraid of Everyone Berninger plays to his role as a parent as well as a rock singer when he sings of hoisting his “kid on my shoulders” before offering the slightly startling thought that “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out”. These songs grapple with the concept of mature life and sees Berninger cynical and self-depreciating “ I was a comfortable kid, but I don’t think about it much anymore,” he sings on Lemonworld, before adding “ Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth, and we can say that we invented a summer lovin' torture party.”
Despite the lyrics of High Violet having a fair degree of paranoia, the record never sounds cold – far from it, this is a record that despite its late night city ambience sounds very warm, such is the exceptional musical and human dynamic. It is this as much as anything else that makes us return to listen again and again.
When we first heard this record back in May we thought it was good. By July it was great. By October it was outstanding. By December High Violet by The National is our album of the year by a long mile.