The term "Dad Rock" is one of the most cloying and stupid ways to describe a band-think of all the music you listen to that will soon become "Dad Rock" one day, for example. Of course you can argue that The National, a band oft-targeted with this phrase, have been a grown-up band for a while. But anyone who's seen the way they perform some of their most previously sedate tracks from their last two albums ("Squalor Victoria," "England" to name a few) knows that these tracks are blueprints for very loud, very angry, very piss-and-vinegar "mature" rock that's too smart for your average RockBro and too tethered to reality for your average IndieBro-the Foo Fighters or Animal Collective, they are not. But we have to face the facts: Our favorite bands are gonna get old.
So after the slow-burn classic that was Boxer, or the Springsteen-inflected High Violet-the album that's truly propelled this band to international fame-what did The National do? Release an album of singles? Scheme for radio dominance? They got old. They matured. They wrote an album that mostly stands out for its sonic sophistications, and the result isn't necessarily spectacular. It's not an album that will grow on you, nor is it filled with singles, nor is it filled with songs built for the stadium gigs they now get. In many ways, it feels like their smallest album to date. They shied away from the epic. That's a good thing. Not-spectacular is underrated. Plain-spoken is underrated. Growing old gracefully—or at least being honest about the weirdness and difficulty of that process (see here)—is underrated and moreover, undervalued. It's not crass. It's not a sign of a band that will become those geriatric rockers, shaking their asses around stadiums for baby-boomers like they aren't being mainlined ED drugs and botox. It's not Springsteen's blue-collar rock schtick as a man with a net worth of $200M. It's real. It's why LCD Soundsystem disbanded. And sooner or later, these guys will, too. And that, too, is a good thing.
That's not to say they're completely grown-ass men, or that they're short on ambition: There are moments of playfulness and piss and vinegar on the album for those of us not worried about mortgage payments. "Don't Swallow the Cap" is irresistible, toe-tapping brilliance in a drumbeat. The end of "Graceless" has the kind of screaming, desperate climax that the band hasn't put on a record in way too long. And then there's "Sea Of Love," the standout single of the album that climbs towards a banger of a finish from the first moments, and it only relents for-of course-the chorus (of sorts). In the video for the song, a child goes nuts playing air guitar, as the band kicks out the song, thrashing in the rapture of rock, fitting right in with everything else, an image screaming for an answer: Is being in a rock band as a 40-year-old an inherently immature thing? Probably, yeah. But in their embrace of this, they've managed to stay relevant, and great, too. Every other band who's been around for over a decade would be wise to take notes. —Foster Kamer