The National may sound like a garage band turned down, but there's as much primal energy lurking behind Alligator as in any mop-topped group of city kids with bloodstained Danelectros in a dusty warehouse. While Matt Berninger's lyrics and conversational delivery rely heavily on the kind of literate self-absorption that fuels so much of the indie rock scene today, he never comes off as preachy or unaware that the world would manage just fine without him; rather, he uses metaphor and humor as bullet points for a profound sense of displacement and anger. Out-of-the-blue statements like "f*ck me and make me a drink," from the brooding but lovely "Karen," are effective because the listener is brought into the story slowly, almost amiably, before being led to the plank. Berninger's wry, filthy, and often eloquently sad tales of materialism, sex, and loneliness are augmented by the stellar duel-sibling attack of Aaron Dessner (guitar) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott Devendorf (guitar/bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums), who flesh out each track with so many little creative flourishes that it takes a few listens to break them down into palatable portions. There are upbeat moments found within -- "Lit Up" and "Looking for Astronauts" -- but for the most part the National are content with playing the genial fatalists, and while "All the Wine" seems designed to serve as the record's desolate backbone, "Baby, We'll Be Fine," with its quick changes, lush orchestration, and winsome refrain of "I'm so sorry for everything" is, despite an elegiac delivery, Alligator's loneliest track, and like each part of this fine collection of city-weary poetry, it's as brief as it is affecting.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger