Trouble Will Find Me is The National’s sixth album and their first after hitting mainstream success with their previous effort High Violet. The album continues The National’s focus on melancholy, enhanced by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep baritone style of singing. Just looking at the list of songs, with names like “Humiliation”, “Graceless,” “Demons,” or “Slipped,” you kind of have the feeling that this isn’t going to be light, easy listening. However, if you can look past the “glass half empty” perspective, Trouble Will Find Me rewards you for doing so.
To get it out of the way first of all, yes Trouble Will Find Me is somewhat a depressing affair. On first listen I couldn’t help roll my eyes at how bleak some of the lines are, such as the chorus “but I stay down with my demons” from the song “Demons.” Berninger broods about such topics as trouble with faith and religion, self-consciousness and doubt, and just generally feeling bad about yourself. However, after a while I found I got used to the dark themes, and to some extent I found the lyrics satisfying, almost cathartic. It is like The National are not holding any negative thoughts back but letting it all out, showing you that maybe it is not so bad at the bottom, it just is what it is.
That being said, there are some moments of the album that are repetitive with the theme of self-deprecation. For example, the songs “Slipped” and “Fireproof” are the weak points of the album, where they cover the same topics as before and don’t add much to the album as a whole. “Fireproof” reminded me of La Roux’s “Bulletproof,” only from a whiney observer’s perspective.
Despite some weak points of the album where things get repetitive, the rest of Trouble Will Find Me shines with songs that hit hard with honest, heartfelt lyrics. “Sea of Love” is one of my favourites on the album as its lyrics run load and clear, such as its balls-out statement “If I stay here trouble will find me / If I stay here I’ll never leave,” or the shout from a distance “Hey Joe sorry I hurt you but / They say love is a virtue / Don’t they.” Other highlights on the album include “Graceless,” a beautiful song that drives all the self-resentment and doubt home, or “Humiliation,” which provides much needed relief from the heaviness of the previous songs with its light, take-it-as-it-comes, Los Angeles vibe.
One point about Trouble Will Find Me that I can’t stress enough is that the album is a grower, not a shower, as mentioned before with the depressing subject matter. There is something about the album that sticks around with you after the first listen that makes you want to listen to it again. You notice that the songs in the album follow a similar structure, where at around the three quarter mark the song changes a little, adding depth and nuance. It takes a few listens to start to expect the turn in the song, and when it comes it is a rewarding experience. There is no doubt that many of the songs in Trouble Will Find Me are well structured, well thought out, and well performed.
The National’s Trouble Will Find Me can easily be mistaken for a depressing affair given the general trend of the lyrics, and Berninger’s deep voice doesn’t help, but calling it just depressing doesn’t give the album the credit it deserves. Yes the lyrics can be sad but at the same time they can be cathartic, and I appreciate the thought and depth that is apparent in the songs. You may get tired listening to it the first time but stick with it and The National will reward you in the end. I strongly recommend the album.