The National: Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers (2021 Remaster) (4AD) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The National

Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers (2021 Remaster)


Mar 23, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their self-titled debut, The National have reissued remastered versions of their early work including their 2003-released second album, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, and 2004’s Cherry Tree EP. Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers is a pivotal album in The National’s story and proved that they were something more than just another Brooklyn-based band with an ear for melody and a nice turn of phrase who were just tagging along for the ride.

The album digs deeper than their debut and this 2021 Abbey Road remaster really brings out the dexterous musicianship, the intricate percussive flourishes, Padma Newsome’s elegant string arrangements, and the band’s thrilling guitars licks. Revisiting the album reveals it’s more than stood the test of time and what a huge sonic leap forward it was for the band. Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers lives up to its title and is essentially an anatomy of a dying/dead relationship. There are vignettes of illicit assignations and of a man trying to come to terms with his new reality. Frontman Matt Berninger plays the jilted lover consumed by loss, bitterness, and rage, but he’s also acerbically self-aware with much of his anger is directed inwards. Throughout the album Berninger channels the somber eloquence of Nick Cave, the dark poetic sensuality of Leonard Cohen alongside Tom Waits’ dissolute bourbon-soaked drawl quite brilliantly. He takes us to a world of dive bars where people lose themselves pouring whiskey into the cracks of their relationships which fester and become gaping fissures in their soul. It’s raw and it’s visceral and it’s real. At times perhaps a little too real and unflinching in its honesty, Berninger at times sounds like he’s completely unravelling. As a lyricist one feels Berninger could always find a black cloud in a clear blue sky but do it with a such poetic turn of phrase it would soften the blow and ultimately have you embracing the rain. On Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers he pulls no punches and admitted in an interview recently with The Creative Independent that he finds revisiting some songs, such as the unhinged “Available,” problematic. “I don’t like the person I was who wrote it,” he said. “I don’t like what I was saying about life in that one. I was a dick and ‘Available’ is a mean song and when I sing it I feel mean and it was real.” Maybe so but it’s still a quite brilliant song.

The National always could make bleakness sound beautiful, but without romanticizing or idealizing it. A case in point is album opener “Cardinal Song”—without doubt one the band’s most heartbreaking and caustic songs (Berninger has called it “the most bitter song in the National’s catalogue” and “too depressing” to play live during a Facebook Q&A back in 2015). The remastered version opens the song up, allowing you to appreciate the instrumentation and nuances as well as Berninger’s world-weary poetic self-loathing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more desolate line than “Never tell the one you want that you do/Save it for the deathbed.”

“Lucky You” remains one of the finest songs the band have written and as the album’s final payoff it still has the power to send shivers down your spine. The remastered version helps make revisiting Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers a scintillating immersive experience and reveals the first surefooted steps onto a pathway and a way of songwriting that would lead them to become “national” treasures. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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September 12th 2021

Frontman Matt Berninger plays the jilted lover consumed by loss, bitterness, and rage, but he’s also acerbically self-aware with much of his anger is directed inwards. Spray Foam Of SoCal