In honor of the 15th anniversary of Boxer, released this week in 2007, we’re going baritone and celebrating one of my favorite indie rock albums of all time.
I hated The National when I first heard them. Most people probably do? This is the kind of band that needs to hit you at the right place and time (most likely when you are sad). I’ll never forget the first time I heard “This is the Last Time” on Pandora, sitting in a crammed intern room on a sweltering summer day in nyc, fresh from the heels of an iconic breakup. “Your love is such a swamp/… And I said I wouldn’t get sucked in” being the jarring lyric that would go on to live rent-free in my mind and spark a years-long love affair with this band. A band now so big that when I tell Alexa to play The National, she plays the song that lead sadboi Matt Berninger sings with Taylor Swift.
But before Trouble Will Find Me (2013), there was Boxer (2007), an album jam packed with memorable tracks like “Fake Empire,” an unlikely hit that allegedly helped elect President Obama. There’s one song I always play when trying to convince newbies to hop on The National train – and that’s the ever-anxious, ever-sweet “Slow Show.”
The opening scene is set as a narrator stands uncomfortable at a party, out of place and “out of sync.” A ball of nerves with social anxiety, the narrator plays the ultimate wallflower: “Looking for somewhere to stand and stay/ I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away.”
After a few seconds in, you’ll definitely know whether or not you’re vibing with Berninger’s memorable voice. And if you can’t get down with his brooding baritone, maybe it’s the lyrics that can win you over. In a room full of strangers, what he wants is simple: the comfort of being home with his love.
I wanna hurry home to you Put on a slow, dumb show for you And crack you up So you can put a blue ribbon on my brain God, I'm very, very frightened, I'll overdo it
The fear of being a loser is strong in this song: scared of messing up, overdoing it, making mistakes. This spiraling language is constant throughout: “You could drive a car through my head in five minutes/From one side of it to the other.”
Musically there are some simple guitar riffs, light violin strings, and the steady beat of drums before the song takes a tonal shift with piano at 2 minutes and 30 seconds in (where I get absolutely wrecked). It’s the outro that holds the intimate, confessional earworm:
You know I dreamed about you For twenty-nine years before I saw you You know I dreamed about you I missed you for, for twenty-nine years
The idea of missing the time you never had with someone holds real swooning power. These lyrics are an allusion to the lo-fi song “29 years” off of their first self-titled album in 2001. We can feign separating the art from the artist here, but it’s a sweet homage to the age when Berninger met his wife Carin Besser.
Something about age songs feel monumental; marking moments and years in your life you can sing along to and have your main character moment. Maybe it was when you were angstily bopping to Tegan and Sara’s “Nineteen” (“I was nineteen/Call Me”), that familiar kinship singing Blink’s famous line “nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three,” or riffing with Neil Young in “Old Man” (Old man, look at my life/ Twenty-four and there’s so much more”).
This song has been an earworm for years, but especially as I close out my 29th year. It’s the perfect mix of melancholy, sentimental, and sweet. Beware of gemini season.