‘First Two Pages of Frankenstein’ is predictable, repetitive


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The National performs live on Stage AE in 2017 as green spotlights illuminate the band members. The National’s new album “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” is out now on all music streaming platforms.

By Eli Tecktiel, Lifestyle Writer

The National, a long-running alternative rock band, in 2023 sounds a lot like it did 20 years ago, only now with more celebrity cameos.

The lack of change sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t. In these uncertain and unpredictable times, a little bit of predictability in art isn’t necessarily unwelcome. “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” The National’s latest album, preserves the sound the band’s spent the past two decades perfecting. 

While I was slightly disappointed to discover that The National hasn’t done much to branch out its style compared to past efforts, this album felt like reconnecting with an old friend. This is very much the same band that created “Fake Empire” and “I Should Live in Salt,” only the new songs aren’t nearly as memorable or powerful. But as exciting as fresh, new music tends to be, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for a little much-needed familiarity.

All of the basic National elements are here: There are vague, abstract lyrics about heartbreak, pain and loneliness, somber piano chords demolished by fuzzy guitars and a sparse, open production with just the right amount of reverb.

Though fans of Sufjan Stevens will be disappointed that his only audible contributions to “Once Upon a Poolside” are some subtle, ethereal backing vocals, the song effectively opens the album with the type of moody ballad we’ve all come to know and love from the band.

“This Isn’t Helping,” one of two collaborations on the album with the ever-popular singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, beckons the gothic catharsis of Nick Cave’s greatest works. Much like the opener that featured Stevens, Bridgers doesn’t have much of a presence on the song beyond some light, barely noticeable backing vocals. 

It should also be noted that neither artist is credited as a co-writer on the songs they appeared on, which leads me to suspect their presence on the album was more for the purpose of the publicity rather than a meaningful artistic collaboration.

However, “The Alcott,” featuring and co-written by Taylor Swift, compensates for the album’s other lackluster collaborations. Swift, who has frequently worked with National members Aaron and Bryce Dessner in recent years, has a much larger presence in the song than Bridgers or Stevens did on their featured tracks. Because of the pronounced presence members of the band had on Swift’s albums “Folklore” and “Evermore,” she fits in well on the track, giving off the impression that the song could easily have been included on one of her recent albums.

After the Swift-featured highlight, the album begins to grow tired and repetitive. The songs blend together and don’t differ melodically or stylistically enough for them to be easily distinguished by the listener. These songs are by no means bad, but few really stand out against each other.

“Ice Machines” takes a slight detour, leaning into an acoustic-based indie folk sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sufjan Stevens album.

“Your Mind is Not Your Friend,” the second collaboration with Bridgers on the album, is a quintessential National ballad, exploring familiar themes like depression and loneliness, set to a dreary, sleepy musical backdrop. Again, Bridgers doesn’t contribute much more than backing vocals, but her presence certainly doesn’t hurt the track.

Though some albums need to be listened to as a whole in order to be fully appreciated, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” is unfortunately not one of those albums. The only songs I can imagine myself going back to are “The Alcott,” “Ice Machines” and “Your Mind is Not Your Friend.” The rest of the songs on the album felt bland and generic, and I found that I couldn’t remember most of them by the time the album was over.