Trouble Will Find Me is far and away the best comedy album of the year so far.
You see, when I start off a review with that kind of inflammatory hyperbole, I’m just inviting anger. I’m inviting people to complain about how I didn’t give this album a fair chance. I’m inviting them to call me an ass. Well, I am being an ass. This album makes me want to act like one. Trouble Will Find Me is a record that’s meant to be taken seriously, but it’s filled with accidental goofiness and unintentional hilarity. If laughing at serious music makes me an ass, then so be it.
Look, the fact that this album makes me laugh already makes it a massive improvement over the formless, melancholy murk of The National’s previous effort, High Violet. Being unintentionally funny is way better than being boring as fuck, right? And I’ll give the band credit for actually varying their sound across the various tracks this time around, instead of just rewriting the same song eleven times.
So what makes this record so hilarious? Well, to understand that, you have to understand what Trouble Will Find Me sounds like. It’s an album of dark, moody, slow-paced indie rock, with flourishes of strings, keyboards, and harmonicas. Lead singer Matt Berninger drones in a mumbling, mournful baritone. The music is competent, if slightly boring, and like the music on their previous album, it often feels like it’s drowning in reverb. (Blame band members Aaron and Bryce Dessner and their weird production job.) Where hilarity enters the picture is in the lyrics, specifically, how they’re juxtaposed against deadly serious music.
I mean, what the fuck is Berninger singing about? His lyrics (written with the assistance of Carin Besser) make no fucking sense. At all. They’re vaguely elegiac, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, full of non sequiturs and the kind of excessive half-rhyming that characterizes teenage poetry. A sampling, from “Heavenfaced”: “She’s a griever / And I believe her. / It’s not a fever. / It’s a freezer.” What the hell does that even mean? On the opening track, “I Should Live In Salt,” Berninger intones, “I should live in salt for leaving you behind.” Really? In salt? That just sounds like a needlessly poetic way of saying, “I’m a fucking moron for breaking up with you.” Later, on “Pink Rabbits,” he sings, “Am I the one you think about when you’re sitting in your fainting chair drinking pink rabbits?” There’s no drink called a “pink rabbit.” Trust me. I Googled that shit. And who the fuck has a fainting chair nowadays anyway? But by far the funniest thing that Berninger does is when he exclaims, “Fuck!” in the middle of “Demons” for literally no reason at all. He doesn’t even shout it; he just says half-sings it, as if he couldn’t even commit to the emotion of yelling random curse words.
The thing is, there’s zero irony in these lyrics. Berninger sings them straight, as if we’re not supposed to laugh when he sings lines like, “Bats and buzzards in the sky, / Alligators in the sewers. / I don’t even wonder why.” Actually, he sings them in a half-bored, kinda drunk, am-I-really-still-in-a-band? voice, which makes me think that his impenetrable metaphors are actually just a pile of intentionally meaningless shit. Maybe he’s writing crazy lyrics on purpose, just to fuck with everyone. Maybe Matt Berninger is trolling us all.
And you know what? That would be fine. Bands should release whatever music and lyrics they want. I support that. And to be honest, Trouble Will Find Me has a few tracks that are legitimately great, like the rocking “Sea of Love” and “Graceless,” and the subdued “I Need My Girl.” But the rest of the album isn’t interesting enough for me to want to take it seriously, and it’s as if the other band members aren’t in on Berninger’s joke as they strum their soporific, deadly serious harmonies in the background. I can hear The National desperately trying (and mostly failing) to break free of the self-imposed shackles of their monotonous High Violet vibe. Strangely, it’s entertaining to hear The National flailing, casting about for an interesting sound. However, I can’t tell how much of that entertainment is schadenfreude, how much of it is fascination with Berninger’s batshit insanity, and how much of it is genuine enjoyment. Trouble Will Find Me is a gloriously confusing, hilarious mess, and I have no idea what I should think of it.
So I’ve settled on being an ass. I’m not going to take this album seriously. Trouble Will Find Me is a fantastically funny comedy album, full of weird, wacky nonsense. Recommended if you like Louis C.K., fart noises, or hot dogs on sticks.