Like Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear or Arcade Fire, The National is a cornerstone of the indie pop and rock of the 2000s. It’s time to ask the question: did these artists, so relevant, reveal everything of substance that they had? No one can affirm or predict it, but the stars of each generation inexorably follow this trend, with a few exceptions: after a few really inspired albums, the lyrics and interpretation must be exceptional to counter the obsolescence of the form… unless the songwriter can alter the envelope. This is precisely what Matt Berninger has attempted here. To vary his proposal and distinguish himself from The National, of which he’s the frontman, he called upon the legendary Booker T. Jones to produce this solo album. Thus, the septuagenarian from Memphis put himself at the service of the 40-year-old from Cincinnati, not to mention Matt Berrick (The Walkmen), Andrew Bird, and Scott Devendorf, who also helped out. The singer digs a big Americana groove, with a strong accent on country-folk, chamber folk, and southern soul. Berninger’s songs sport new clothes: country piano, Hammond B3, acoustic guitars, pedal steel guitar, a cloppity-clop rhythm from start to finish… Only the brass arrangements and the participation of singer and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey recall the indie style for which the singer is familiar. Whether one likes or dislikes this new envelope, it can’t be said that the singer, songwriter, and composer hasn’t tried something different. Dark, grey, rainy, anxious, sometimes self-derisory or even luminous, always honest, these new songs by Berninger teach us little we didn’t know about him, but nevertheless maintain our respect.
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