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Album Review
High Violet

High Violet
by The National


Review Date
7th May 2010
Reviewed by
Gareth Meade

More often than not, albums as highly anticipated as this tend to crumble underneath the weight of expectation. For that reason perhaps the most exceptional thing about High Violet, the long awaited follow up to The National’s outstanding Boxer, is the way it effortlessly exceeds those expectations. Not once across the 11 tracks does the band sound like they were out to prove anything, let alone surrender to the pressure of following two great albums with another.

If there was any minor criticism that could have been made about Boxer, it would be the infrequent reliance on lead singer Matt Berninger’s brooding intensity to carry some of the songs. High Violet on the other hand is much more dense and idea heavy. The first 30 seconds of each song are still recognisably The National, but it is not necessarily indicative of where the song will end up. ‘Terrible Love’ has these qualities in abundance, opening the album with all of the ascending aplomb you’d expect. It has a truly compelling sense of intrigue that depending on how easily influenced you are by such things, could literally carry you off your feet.

High Violet builds on that frenetic energy and undercurrent of peril for better than half the album, weaving its way through familiarity and unpredictability. The highest points are ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ and ‘Afraid of Everyone’, both of which are exciting and addictive. Berninger seems to relax the dominance of his voice and allows it to ruminate among the instruments. The impenetrable musicianship sticks with him every step of the way and it’s not until ‘Lemonworld’ and the beautiful ‘Runaway’ that we’re provided with relief from the relentless emotional onslaught.

There are contributions from a few notable names on the album, but the one that makes the greatest impression is Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, whose multi-layered harmonies stretch the dying moments of ‘Conversation 16’ in new and extremely rewarding directions. The song is the first in the brilliant concluding triumvirate, the best of which is ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, ramping the sentimentality up so high that if the album continued any longer, it’s doubtful you’d have the energy to go on.

So if you were worried about your expectations being too high for this album, now is the time to stop worrying. High Violet is better than you could have ever expected.

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