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Photo: Josh Goleman
Photo: Josh Goleman

The National Stay Strong On First Two Pages of Frankenstein

The masters of sad dad rock return with some help from Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Taylor Swift. 

by Fraser Hamilton

By this point, you know what you’re going to get with an album from The National. And this isn’t a bad thing at all, as the band’s mix of lightness and gloom in both their lyrics and sound have remained consistent and deeply satisfying. With their ninth album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the group’s music is as strong as ever thanks to confessional lyrics and some surprise guest features.

The album’s title came from a bout of writer’s block the band suffered while trying to put the record together. Lead singer Matt Berninger opened up Mary Shelley’s titular novel, and found inspiration from the first few pages that involved the book’s narrator adrift and lost at sea. The sense of isolation comes up often throughout the album, especially in “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend.” Sung with Phoebe Bridgers, the song sounds painfully depressing at first, but it’s more of a mantra to bring one out of the depths of depression. Bridger’s voice, while serving as just backup, provides delicate lightness to Berninger’s deep dark vocals, and it makes the song hit surprisingly hard. 

It’s a shame Bridgers is put more into the background on the two songs she appears on though, as her getting her own verse could’ve pushed The National’s music into some fresher territory. The same goes for Sufjan Stevens on “Once Upon A Poolside” and megastar Taylor Swift on “The Alcott.” Swift gets a little more to do vocally, but a proper duet with her own spin on certain verses could’ve been an interesting turn. Even still, it’s impressive how nine albums in, The National continues to create strong music that’s grounding, sad, and even a little hopeful.