For a band that's been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Wilco, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the National sure sounds a lot more like the Czars or Uncle Tupelo on this sophomore album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. Where the band might lack Joy Division's angular fury, Cohen's existentialism, and Cave's vampiric attack, vocalist Matt Berninger and company whip up a murky alt country meets chamber pop vibe that's quite potent. The five-piece mostly keeps things on the country side of the fence during the album's first half, as slide guitars and fiddles overpower just about any hint of rock styling except the drumbeat, occasional feedback, and some screeching guitar freak-outs. Toward the album's close, the songs' textures finally shift from country to indie rock. Berninger is more than content to roam pastures featuring small patches of emo, sadcore, and artsy strings, clearly wearing his influences on his sleeve. Indeed, album-opener "Cardinal Song" could very easily be mistaken for the Tindersticks or Cousteau, with a passage that is a virtual note for note reconstruction of a Red House Painters song. Though the band focuses on slow atmospheric songs, it's when it kicks out the jams that the music is the most compelling. Case in point is "Slipping Husband," with its fine melodic waves and a perfectly placed bout of screaming. "Trophy Wife" presents yet another influence; the song seems a dead ringer for the Shins. It's hard to shake the feeling that the National is highly influenced by and studied in the bands it emulates, but the album is still worth a listen for fans of moody country-tinged lounge music. With so many influences rearing their heads and ample musical chops in the bag, the National might not be masters of any one genre, but it creates a fine amalgam nonetheless.
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AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina