Photos by Jennie McKeon
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The melancholy piano notes that introduce “Fake Empire” lay the foundation upon which The National rests 12 somber tracks.
We’re half awake in a fake empire sings lead vocalist Matt Berninger in his signature deep vocals. He alludes to living life in an incomplete state of mind with grand illusions that don’t match reality.
“Boxer” isn’t the first, and likely not the last, album in which the National throws daggers at society with pinpoint precision. In “Apartment Story,” it’s societal timelines and the way TV cultivates lives; in “Start a War” it’s denying the collapse of a relationship and in “Brainy,” it’s the way we overestimate and underestimate our intelligence.
The common theme that runs throughout “Boxer” is the idea of denying reality and replacing it, perhaps only partially, with fantasy.
“Mistaken for Strangers,” the album’s first single, is a lyrical masterpiece. It tackles the struggles of adulthood and watching relationships dwindle away.
Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over you
Surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch
Another un-innocent, elegant fall
Into the un-magnificent lives of adults
— “Mistaken for Strangers”
Even before I heard it, I knew “Racing Like a Pro” would be my favorite song. There is something about the title alone that indicates reaching a critical point of desperation; this is where The National lives.
It’s a concept I’m drawn to, because these critical moments are often what dictate the direction in which people move forward. What’s most compelling about The National is its ability to give sound to the human condition and coerce core emotions to the surface.
I haven’t fully connected to the meaning of “Racing Like a Pro,” but I fear I someday will. When Berninger repeatedly sings You’re dumstruck baby, it feels like something more than the song is ending.
Another appeal of this track is the accompaniment of Sufjan Stevens, a true artist of instruments.
When Vinyl Me, Please, a vinyl record shopping subscription, reissued the 2007 album on vinyl, I realized someone had stumbled onto the same realization I had. The album’s title is seldom acknowledged and definitely underappreciated.
How appropriate to title this record after one of the most trying sports. Boxing is always two against one, you against your opponent and then — the more advanced of the two — you against yourself. The athletes must also exist in two planes of consciousness, one in which you predict the movements of your opponent and another in which you plan a counterattack.
Boxing relies on mental toughness and physical endurance then preys on shortcomings in either category.
The lack of recognition toward the album's title only further signifies how strategically poignant "Boxer" truly is. I wouldn't want to get caught in the crossfire of The National's right hook.
White anorak, gray running tights, silver gym bag, PINK tank top and multicolor sports bra - Victoria's Secret Pink
Black running tights, black sneakers - Nike
Red mesh top - Polly and Esther
Black sports bra under red mesh top - Target