The National - Sleep Well Beast review: feeding their beast of burden

Wed, Sep 6, 2017, 11:00


Sleep Well Beast

The National



Messy things such as separation and divorce are grist to the mill for the creative type – artists sift through debris for nuggets of whatever it is that might express emotional hurt and pain. The National can be exceptionally good at this, as previous albums Alligator (2005) and Trouble Will Find Me (2013) have proved, but Sleep Well Beast takes the proverbial biscuit and dunks it into a mug of cold, cold comfort.

The mood here could never be described as cheerful – and how could it be with tracks titled I’ll Still Destroy You, Dark Side of the Gym and The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness? Still, as longtime admirers of The National know only too well, the underpinning lower key melody lines are both insidious and effective. Simplistic piano phrases are artfully employed in Nobody Else Will be There and Born to Beg. Meanwhile, songs such as Walk It Back, Empire Line, I’ll Still Destroy You, Carin at the Liquor Store, Dark Side of the Gym and the title track have wonderful feverish elements – conveyed by synths, strings and electronic treatments – that burn slowly, more often than not to the point of termination.

There is more carefully considered moderation here, then, than kinetic excitement, but when that arrives it does so with a vengeance in the form of Day I Die and Guilty Party. The former is easily one of The National’s best/familiar “rock” songs, a stuttering blast of decorative guitars and gyrating drum patterns. The latter is a momentum-gathering cascade of rhythm and lyrics (“It’s nobody’s fault, no guilty party . . . ”) that traces the route from aching dejection to reluctant arrangement.

Adding such constituent parts together, Sleep Well Beast is The National firing on all cylinders, battery fully charged, tyres pumped – and with shades on to hide the bruising caused by loss of love.