The National: First Two Pages of Frankenstein (4AD) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The National

First Two Pages of Frankenstein


Apr 27, 2023 Issue #71 - Weyes Blood and Black Belt Eagle Scout Bookmark and Share

It’s a wonder The National haven’t collaborated with film director Noah Baumbach, considering both have an affinity for returning to tense, deteriorating, and broken relationships as their preferred medium. Through 20 years, The National has remained comfortable in this mode, always finding new hints of inspiration that breathe life into their music. However, on new album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, those wells of inspiration are showing the first signs of drought in a long time.

It wasn’t going to be realistic or necessary to match the scope of 2019 record I Am Easy to Find. That album’s cinematic ambition felt like a once-in-a-career burst of light. So it’s unsurprising that Frankenstein feels like a return to fundamentals. It is a bit surprising though just how stale this all sounds. There are likable moments—the signature Dessner and Devendorf brothers’ crescendos on “Grease In Your Hair” and “Eucalyptus,” the peaceful minimalism of “Send For Me,” or the twinkly guitars of “Ice Machines,” which bring to mind Aaron Dessner’s recent work with Taylor Swift. But even for the most effective songs, the impact is largely due to familiarity.

Singer Matt Berninger admitted Frankenstein came after a period of “creative crisis,” and much of the album does feel like the band pushing to get through a dry spell. Mostly, this leads to songs like the Swift-aided romantic-drama credits ballad “The Alcott” that are pleasant enough, but forgettable. At worst, however, “Eucalyptus” and “New Order T-Shirt” suffer lyrically from over-specific word pictures about talking to a shark in a Kentucky aquarium and splitting up household knick-knacks after a relationship breakup. While efforts to overcome a creative slump are commendable, these reminiscences aren’t particularly stirring.

The album’s most complete song is its lead single, “Tropic Morning News,” with its icy, “Idioteque”-like drumbeat and Berninger’s honest confession, “I was suffering more than I let on.” Following this, the album’s saving grace is its final three songs, which inch away from the sadness of the past toward a hope for the future. “Your Mind Is Not Your Friend,” a lovely duet between Berninger and Phoebe Bridgers, reads like an encouragement note to a friend battling depression, a reminder that we need people in our lives who can assure us things are often not as bad as we think. Closer “Send For Me” is a heartwarmer, The National’s “Drive All Night” that washes over the relational devastation of the album with the faithful love and care necessary to carry on. On Frankenstein, The National show signs of renewed potential after their period of uncertainty, even if in split second glimpses and snapshots and sounds. (

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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