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4.7 out of 5 stars
26
Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 5 July 2010
The National's second album, 2003's Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was where the band really started off in earnest, as their self-titled debut was pretty unremarkable. Within seconds of the first track, Cardinal Song, you're transported immediately into brooding, melancholic territory with Matt Berninger's voice centre stage over slowly unfolding music, as Berninger lays down his `rules of engagement': ("never tell the one you want that you do"). It drifts along pleasantly for 3 or 4 minutes, with hints of Red House Painters and American Music Club until the notes of a piano take the song to a different place entirely and a beautiful violin part takes over, darkening the song wonderfully.

The pace picks up with Slipping Husband, with a simple descending guitar part where Berninger sings with heavy regret, calling to mind the likes of Feargal McKee (Whipping Boy), yet with a `head full of attitude' as lines like "dear we better get a drink in you before you start to bore us" illustrate. The music is superb, the band play with just the right pace.

90-Mile Water Wall is gentler, with an acoustic guitar and fiddle. Berninger is particularly prominent on this album in comparison to later albums, his voice really owns many of these songs. There are some really great lyrics here: "how could your hair have the nerve to dance around like that". The first half of this album is as strong a set of songs as on any album by any band. It Never Happened has a similar feel, regret being the primary emotion as Berninger sings "we look younger than we feel and older than we are."

Things get a bit heavier and dirtier with Murder Me Rachael, underpinned by a great violin part and distorted guitars and some great, if a little creepy lyrics ("I loved her to ribbons", "tomorrow won't be pretty"). The song builds and builds to a climax with Berninger screaming his vocals towards the end. Thirsty is quieter, though no less urgent. Again there's a fairly simple, descending melody but on this, like many of the other songs it's the little touches that make the songs: a little violin here, some guitar there and more great lyrics. "Take these girly arms," Berninger sings, "and ever keep me", very resonant lines in my view.

The heaviest song is Available, which belts along with driving guitar and heavy drums. It's not like anything else in the National's song catalogue, melodically it's like Joy Division with added distortion, the verses are underpinned with some filthy guitars in the background. It's one of the best songs I've ever heard, the melody, lyrics and music combine fantastically. There's a kind of pause in the middle, where the song is almost catching its breath with Berninger spitting out in disgust the line "you... just... made yourself available." The song then kicks back into gear with even more frenzy than before, until Berninger loses it completely, screaming "WHY DID YOU DRESS ME DOWN, DRESS ME DOWN?" before eschewing lyrics altogether and just screaming blue murder. It's an utterly brilliant moment, and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time.

The rest of the album isn't quite as strong, but it would be almost impossible to keep a run of brilliant songs like those. Suffice to say that for the first seven songs alone, this an album to put up there with The Smiths, American Music Club et al.
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on 6 February 2004
This album resonates with resigned beauty captured by evocative music and articulated superbly by the deep rich voice of Matt Berninger. The songs tell of love and hate and that fine line that divides and joins our relationships. Despite the mostly bleak subject matter, there is something that is strangely uplifting about the album - almost life affirming, much as Willard Grant Conspiracy seem to have acheived with their musings on death on Regard the End. The alt-country-tinged "90-mile water wall" is at variance musically with the pounding drums, throbbing bass and screaming guitars and vocals of "Murder Me Rachael" but they convey their messages superbly.
The last track, "Lucky You" rounds off an excellent album probably best enjoyed alone, late on in the night in a mood-lit room with some fractured memories and a large glass of Macallan.........perhaps not for everyone then, but if that feeling has ever got to you, you'll enjoy this.
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on 8 December 2003
I'd never heard of The National before being turned onto them by a like-minded friend; let's just say I owe him for the recommendation. Big time.
Because Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers is worth buying for Cardinal Song and 90 Mile Water Wall alone, with repeated listens revealing that nearly all the other songs on it are fantastic too.
There's a fire in these songs that burns with the ferocity of prime American Music Club, and the soul of Lambchop and Tindersticks. To make comparisons is a bit unfair though, because The National pull off the uncommon trick of wearing their influences proudly, but still sounding original. And despite the bleak lives painted in the lyrics the music on this album is full of eyes-skywards melodicism and quiet inventiveness. That this is sustained over the full length of the album is invigorating indeed, and they even manage to hit a peak over the last few tracks, a rare pleasure in my experience.
Matt Berninger's voice is beautifully suited to this material, and the playing and arrangements consistently match up with the moods conjured, with gorgeously woozy strings on several tracks.
If any of the above appeals, then get hold of this forthwith. Easily in the top ten new albums this year.
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on 21 November 2003
In short, if you like Lou Reed's Berlin album, Replacements and Bill Hicks then this is the album for you. No happy songs, no optimistic songs, just pure despair, failed relationships and hatred. But, it's melodic and sung exactly as these types of songs should be sung. For the intrigued, depressed and recently divorced, press Play.
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on 4 February 2011
This was a good album but if you have never heard of them, try their brilliant 2010 High Violet. It was my album of the year and still play it constantly. Every track is haunting and beautiful so when I bought Sad songs I was slightly but not totally disappointed. A great band who deserve more exposure.
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on 8 February 2013
Dark, moody and intense. Just the way I like my music.
The lyrics are as if he is living inside the song.
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on 2 October 2017
Great as usual!
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on 3 July 2017
A++
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on 24 July 2013
Another great album by The National. Very listenable with some incredibly good tracks. I am a massive fan of The National and always will be!
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on 5 October 2013
Alligator is the best National album by far! Sad songs... lacks the realy good songs. Also the drummer is so much better on Alligator.
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