Release Date: May 22, 2007
Record label: Beggars Banquet
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Review Summary: Nearly flawless in execution, Boxer is The National's second masterpiece and a near-classic.Sneaking up on critics and music fans alike, Alligator, the last album from Brooklyn band The National, was quietly released in early 2005 to positive reviews. Touring with the support of fellow New Yorkers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Alligator slowly but steadily generated critical acclaim and ended the year by being placed on a substantial number of "best of 2005" lists, as well as gaining the support of celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen. That The National aren't on the same level of popularity as a band like Interpol or Bloc Party may be difficult to understand for those who fell in love with Alligator or the band's earlier work.
The National don't do anything radically different on Boxer, but then again, they don't really need to: their literate, quietly anthemic take on indie rock seemed to have arrived fully formed on their 2001 self-titled debut. Boxer just hones in even more precisely and intimately on the heartfelt territory the band covers, with punchy-yet-polished production and orchestration by the Clogs' Padma Newsome giving these songs an intimacy and widescreen expansiveness that rivals the Arcade Fire. The album's first four songs are among the National's finest work yet: "Fake Empire" begins as a dead-of-night ballad that echoes Leonard Cohen, then peppy brass and guitars turn it into something joyous.
The National released a couple of wonderful records in the early noughties, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and a follow-up mini-album, both through the French label Talitres. The best heart-sore American rock since the heyday of American Music Club, they felt like real discoveries. Unfortunately, both records they have released since joining Beggars Banquet have pursued a claustrophobic, minor-key U2-on-a-budget sound, with a lot of clatter and chime and little of their early magic.
The National have inscribed themselves with a certain mastery in the indie rock tradition. Working outward from the ambling charms of their self-titled 2001 debut, they've broadened their appeal to encompass an increasingly dark and fashionable take on their own rootsiness, which extends the inevitable map of resemblances but keeps them auspiciously close to the center. Boxer, their fourth record, is full of moves that will sound thoroughly familiar to patrons of mid-fi melancholy, but rare is the moment where the National seem to retread or trespass.