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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The National
Alligator
4AD

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


May 17, 2005
In Sinclair Lewis' Babbit, Paul Riesling is an introverted man who grows enraged by the monotony of his life and the inherent limitations of society. He becomes miserable with the idea of his happy family and meets a more interesting mistress, though is never satisfied by the change. His frustration with the unattainable grows until he snaps, making a mortally grave decision and sending his subsequent existence tumbling even further. Through it all, however, we love him as he delivers wry and quirky lines with great aplomb. By definition, he is a bleakly existential character, but humor brings him grace and complexity. The National's Alligator is also filled with such characters, borne of seedy urban legends that grow more interesting once you step clear of the smokescreen.

As those who love music, as well as themselves, trickled to their favorite record shops to discover the excellent Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, this following LP - their first for the always praiseworthy Beggars Group - was primed to solidify the National's prickly renown. While Sad Songs was immediately arresting, able to knock the wind clean from those who found it, Alligator conjures the same black magic on a broader scale, readying itself to be known beyond those small circles.

It rises to prominence by way of the narrative, sketching magnificent likenesses of despicable characters in much the same way Springsteen has done in his career. There are sepia toned portraits of unlikely heroes and villains, each with foul secrets and regrets to reveal; the depths seem never-ending. Perhaps more central, however, is these characters' desperate need to believe in vindication and glory. Many of the tracks within Alligator capture the longing for salvation despite one's blood-stained memory, searching for self-importance, redemption or just a lovely streak of luck.

"Secret Meeting" starts innocently enough, with green, vine-plucked guitars, the cheery-yet-baritone vocals of Matt Berninger and metaphors for daydreaming delivered in Cureish resplendence. From there, however, we begin to see the true tone beneath all pretense, when "Karen" approaches as a husky, Casablanca-style bar ballad that manages to make the phrase "cock in hand" sound poetically forlorn, what with the salvation of numbing alcohol. Both melodies are deceptively simple beneath their layerings, as the latter cries to lost, aged identity, shaken and utterly in shambles.

While there are more propulsive moments, as on the menacing, uncontrollable "Lit Up" and the manic, New Wave tension of "Friend of Mine," most of the album's upbeat tracks are carved from the perspective of loss. "Looking for Astronauts" is cheery with childlike hope, but delivered as though futilely hanging on. "All the Wine" is beautifully expansive, with lyrics ("God is on my side/the motorcade will have to go around me this time") that smack of entitlement, but in context seem ironic and wishful.

And, also recalling Springsteen, "Abel" and "The Geese of Beverly Road" share sounds with Born to Run and Nebraska, respectively - the first an uncontrollably frantic rocker and the second a swanlike, elegant back porch tale - they passionately look to Glory Days. As the closing "Mr. November" claims, "I'm the new blue blood; I'm the great white hope," you can hear by repetition how badly the narrator wants to believe his own words. The reaction becomes a fatalist mantra, that deliverance is always so close, but so tenuous; Alligator captures that determined, hopeless sentiment perfectly, and in doing so should ensnare a wealth of new empathizers.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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