Review: The National re-examines their sadness in ‘First Two Pages of Frankenstein’


The front cover of the National’s new album, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” features a photograph of a young boy holding a mannequin’s head. The ninth album in their catalog finds the rock band examining sadness with a newfound softness. (Photo Source: Image from The Official Website of The National.)

By Greta Irvine, Editor in Chief

My Spotify Wrapped is embarrassingly predictable: my most listened to artist of the year is the National, my most listened to album is “Boxer” by the National and my most listened to song is “Slow Show” by, you guessed it, the National. 

I attribute this gloriously unwavering music taste to my parents who, from the years of 2005 to 2023, played their eight studio albums, two extended plays and 13 singles on repeat. By middle school, I knew the National’s 2017 album “Sleep Well Beast” better than the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The American rock band, formed in 1999 in New York City, consists of lead singer Matt Berninger, twin brothers Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano, keyboards), as well as brothers Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums). 

Although I could recite the entire history of the band and likely 70% of their song lyrics from memory, I’ll save you the headache and get straight to the point: when the National released their latest album, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” April 28, I was devastated to find a melancholic mess. 

The strikingly subdued album was missing an essential vitality — a spirit I could not locate. All 11 tracks of “Frankenstein” dangled the possibility of an anthem only to become a uniformly wistful tale of perpetual motion. I yearned for the spikiness of “Don’t Swallow The Cap” or “Mr. November. I craved the emotional precision of “I Need My Girl.” I feared the whole album would simply evaporate upon reaching the closing ballad, “Send for Me.” 

Seventeen days, 10 re-listens, four album reviews and three familial debates later, I wish to retract my previous statement. Caught up in their former masterpieces, I failed to acknowledge the band’s trajectory towards works more gentle, more unsteady. 

“First Two Pages of Frankenstein” is less a collection of songs and more an unstable narrative, examining the hallmark sadness of the National with a newfound softness. But, make no mistake, figuring out what we’re supposed to be sad about is a much more arduous task than in previous albums. 

From the get-go, the National prepares listeners for a desolate ride. The opening track, “Once Upon a Poolside,” blends a bright piano arrangement with a tone of desperation, ending with the haunting message, “I thought we could make it through anything.” The following song, “Eucalyptus,” submerges itself in this sentiment, listing the things a couple divides up at the end of a relationship.

“Grease in Your Hair” remains a standout track in the album, as it draws the most parallels to 2007’s “Boxer,” with thunderous drumming from Bryan Devendorf.

Distinguished guests Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift waver in and out of “Frankenstein,” supplying not much more than backing vocals and harmonies, though their effect is profound. Swift, in particular, brings her beautifully recognizable vocals to “The Alcott,” for a duet many have termed “the National (Taylor’s version).”

The unmistakable anxiety seeping into the album reflects the band’s recent challenges as Berninger suffered from a year long writer’s block and depression. “Frankenstein’s” lead single, “Tropic Morning News,” painfully divulges his struggles with lines like, “I was suffering more than I let on,” followed by introspective questioning: “Oh, where’s the gravity gone?”

At times, the tangible misery found in Berninger’s lyrics makes it difficult to unearth shreds of light in the album.

One audience reviewer, however, found beauty in the band’s trials, encouraging skeptics to “take it … as living embodiment that the creative act of music can help get you out of some terrible places — and thus, by extension, the act of listening may do the same too.”

As “Frankenstein” reckons with gnawing darkness, the indie-rock band withholds anticipated messages of hope. Instead, for Pitchfork reviewer Brad Shoup, the National’s new album offers “just a simple ride home.”  

  • Sound Quality
  • Lyrics
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact


The National’s “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” is the rock band’s ninth studio album. The melancholic narrative told through 11 tracks examines the band’s hallmark sadness, featuring vocals from topflight artists Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens and Phoebe Bridgers. Although I was an initial skeptic, the National’s novel gentleness is a triumph.