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4.6 out of 5 stars
Alligator
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2005
With New York offering little in the Great Bands department last year after 2003's NY explosion, it's refreshing to see one of the year's gems straight outta Brooklyn. This, however, is no hype-fuelled hipster workout. 'Alligator' is the National's third album, their first on a major label and hopefully the one which will throw them into the mainstream, and deservedly so. It should float the boats of fans of dark, brooding post-punk (opener 'Secret Meeting) and introspective Americana (the beautiful 'Daughters Of The Soho Riots) alike. There's even a bit of welcome shouting thrown in, on fantastic single 'Abel'.
Matt Berninger provides deep, soothing vocals reminiscent of Ian Curtis and, more recently, Interpol's Paul Banks, which slot in perfectly with the high-pitch guitar noises. But the range of styles and oblique lyrics suggest there's far more on offer here than moody alt-rock. Berninger turns alt-country strummer 'Karen' into a medium for his deepest thoughts and sexual confessions. You'll notice the breezy tune first and the interesting lyrics ("Karen, put me in a chair, f**k me and make me a drink" and even more disturbing, "It's a common fetish for a doting man to ballerina on the coffee table, c**k in hand") second, giving the album substantial replay value.
Almost every track on this mini masterpiece is intriguing and listenable and there are highlights in abundance. 'Abel' boasts a great sing-along chorus of "My mind's not right!" amidst simple indie-rock verses, while closer 'Mr November' documents their (clearly failed) rush to get the album completed before the November elections with its line "The English are waiting and I don't know what to do/ In my best clothes" before just about getting away with saying "I'm the new blue blood, I'm the great white hope", because it might just be true. 'Val Jester' and 'Daughters Of The Soho Riots' are both gorgeous slower songs unafraid to delve into strange personal love experiences and fantasies. Tuneful and poetic, 'Alligator' is truly an album to cherish.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2005
The title of this review is a line from the twelfth song on this album, City Middle, which is also where the album title comes from.
The best thing about The National is Matt Berninger, vocalist and lyricist. He has a deep voice, often compared to Nick Cave's but much more melodic, though hardened by years of heartbreak and nicotine addiction. His lyrics are bleak poetry, of lost loves and frank sexual admissions. For example in "Baby, We'll Be Fine", he recounts "I pull off your jeans and you spill Jack and Coke in my collar".
The guitar work between the two guitarists (one of the two sets of siblings in the band) is subtle and skilled, while not overwhelming the focal point of the band which is Berninger's unique voice.
There is some sublime string arrangement on this album too, without it being like a country fiddle type sound, or taking over the songs. The strings just add another layer to the music, and a certain beauty also.
Percussion is unusual. Often off-beat and strange rhythms, it always seems to strangely fit with the music, although a simple four beat rhythm would be much simpler. It is this added ambition which puts this record ahead of The National's eponymous debut and the EP Cherry Tree. Though I personally believe Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers is their finest hour, Alligator certainly comes close.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2006
I bought this a couple of months ago on the back of it being listed in my 'recommendations' on Amazon. Must admit that some of the stuff recommended is a bit duff (remarkably yesterday I was recommended 'Closer to the Edge' by prog rock dinosaurs Yes on the back of liking The Stranglers' 'Black and White'), however on this occasion Amazon came up trumps. I hadn't even heard of The National when I bought this, but reading customers' reviews convinced me to give it a try. I am so glad that I did. 'Alligator' is a remarkable album. Hard to pin down the exact genre of music this is but if you like Eels, Arcade Fire and anything like that then I'm sure that you'll like this. Someone below said it sounds like Joy Division.....hmmmm. Not really Ian Curtis, yes I can see that National singer Matt Berninger sounds a bit down but not in the same way that the suicidal Curtis did. I also don't get the comparisons with Nick Cave. Again I like Cave but this is not the same at all. Alligator is beautifully written both lyrically and musically, Berninger's deep voice perfectly accompanied by well-worked indie-type guitar music on most tracks, but some tracks also have superb string and keyboard arrangements. Standout tracks - 'Secret Meeting, 'Karen', 'Val Jester' and 'All the Wine'. This band definitely deserve a listen and this album is perfectly accessible to anyone with an ear for good music. Go buy it. (9.5/10)
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2006
I first heard the National when they supported the Editors at their Brixton Academy gig last week. I must admit I was kind of taken aback (not expecting too much) to hear some fantastic songs with beautifully orchestrated melodies. The inclusion of a violin in some of the songs worked very well and blended in perfectly. To be honest, I'd pretty much decided to buy Alligator as soon as I'd heard three of four of their tracks. It was probably the best music decision I've made!

I think I can safely say that this is the best album I have bought in years. The style is quite unlike anything I have heard before - I suppose the National would fall into the indie rock genre but they set themselves apart from many of the other indie rock groups with rich, lush orchestration, deep soulful baritone vocals, and some dark, moody, but not necessarily depressing lyrics. At a push the Nationals closest neighbours are probably the Arcade Fire, but their vocals aren't as varied - unlike the Arcade Fire they seem to rely on the one lead singer. This actually works well because the lead singers voice seems to combine perfectly with the rich sound of the music.

At the moment I cannot stop listening to this album - I'll probably get the Nationals first two albums as well. My favourite tracks are Secret Meeting, Looking for Astronauts, Abel and the stand-out final track Mr November. To be honest all the tracks are great and make this album one worth listening to from start to finish. Top notch!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2006
Sometimes you find an album that you really can't describe, a genre you can't tie down by an artist you can't quite define. But for those reasons people won't give this chance, there are no garunteed hooks that make you want to listen to one song on repeat over and over. But for that reason you'll always find yourself coming back to it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2005
I guess it's the nature of Americana -the most puzzling new genre label since "New Age"!- to find its worshippers in the most unlikely places, whether it's a borough of New York -having relocated from Cincinatti- or Leeds in the UK when it comes to Dakota Suite, or even somewhere Norway in the case of Midnight Choir.
Anyway the international references above are not gratutious or forced to make my point, The National ultimately belongs to the same community of voices as the above mentioned bands. Like its peers in Europe, they are keen on emotive ballads that manage to evoke and make sense of the pains of being alive.
Where The National does distinguish itself is in their ability to sound as convincing when it comes to the a louder and more epic songcraft, as they do with the intimate stuff. And, in this album, The National proves their range, whether it is the tender melody of "Daughters of the Soho Riots" or the building passion of "Looking For Astronauts."
Other reviews have already mentioned influences and similarities. Certainly the singer will remind you of Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks, although the references to Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen -both of whom I know and admire- are less obvious to me. Actually, at least when it comes to two of my favorite songs -the brooding "Val Jester" and the gorgeous "All The Wine"- Matt Berninger's voice evoked the tone and phrasing of Robert Fisher from the great Willard Grant Conspiracy.
That said, and more importantly, these guys have their own things to say musically and lyrically, and the names mentioned should only be taken to give new listeners a sense of reference, but not to imply that The National's music owes anyone a major debt. They stand on their own, and they deliver a beautiful, heartfelt album, whether they rock or they long, when they turn the volume up and when they lower the lights.
If you were impressed by last year's EP -Cherry Tree- this full-length gem will fill you with joy. The National bare themselves and will lift your spirit. In addition, to the songs mentioned already, I'd add "The Geese of Beverly Road," "Karen" and "City Middle" to make my case.
Along with "Dignity and Shame" by the Crooked Fingers -which I also reviewed- "Alligator" is the best Americana music that you will hear this year. And what it's even more exciting, it may not even be the peak of their creativity. This band's ground is worth keeping your ear to, for whatever they do in the future.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2006
I bought this as an off chance following an Amazon recommendation. It is a superb album that for me is a modern day Joy Division album. IMO all Joy Division fans should love this album. I do not think I've heard anyone else review it and compare it with JD, but I certainly think there is huge similarity.
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on 26 October 2010
I have all their albums this being the only one I didn't have. They have been touted by Micheal Stipe of REM as the Next Big thing and I have to agree. Their sound is something different but encompasses everything you like about a Guitar based rock band, enchanting lyrics amazing musical arrangement and just one of those bands you can listen too know matter what mood you are in.

I have managed to convert several of my friends and collegues to liking this band and it was purely through playing it in the background, in the car and in the bar I work at.

Sit back and enjoy
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2012
It's a great album. Great. What more do you want? It's a great album. You should probably buy it. I would. I did! It's excellent.
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on 23 October 2009
at first i was a bit disappointed by this, but i was being too impatient. it has more subtlety than, say, boxer, but i think it might have more to it for all that. growers are always longer-lived. can't understand how anyone can't hear joy division in this - 'lit up' is almost too close for comfort. the rhythm section of most songs is pure JD. but a lovely album; melancholic, beautiful, sweet, moving.
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