High Violet, the fifth studio album from Brooklyn mope-rockers the National, is being released today to another round of fawning critical acclaim. But here’s the catch! It’s the rare High Violet review that can get all the way through its slobbering without alluding to the most common critique of the city’s heavyweight rock champs — that they are boring. Note: “Another batch of cement to further supplement The National's already unshakable concrete career,” declares Sputnik Music; “a set that moves purposefully in restraint,” proclaims Drowned in Sound; “[not] ‘dad-rock’ so much as ‘men's magazine rock’: music chiefly interested in the complications of being a stable person expected to own certain things and dress certain ways,” raves Andrew Gaerig in Pitchfork’s Best New Music’s review. (Also, one of New York's own citizen critic, in this week's magazine: "I picture married couples listening to this while refurbishing Victorian homes in Flatbush.") That’s what happens when you make great, same-y, mumble-y music about grown-up things, we guess.
But can the National do anything to shake up their staid image without sacrificing too much of their sound? Of course they can. Herewith, five pieces of career advice.
• Associate With Artists in Unexpected Genres. Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver are just some of the acts that contributed to High Violet, but those dudes are also in the “critically acclaimed/allegedly boring” category. Here’s a thought: On their new EP Night Train, massively popular, boring British band Keane (remember “Somewhere Only We Know”?) collaborate with the rapper K’Naan. No, that doesn’t sound like a very good idea, but it is a bold one. Do you ever see Erykah Badu around Brooklyn? If so, a quick B-Side could do the trick.
• Make Statement Videos. M.I.A. isn’t Keane, but you can still borrow a page from her playbook. How comfortable would you be with a video where a Wall Street fat cat gets shot in the head by a sad clown?
• Feud. The most time-honored attention-getting device across most entertainment mediums. Even better is the rarer intra-band feuding. Here’s a crazy idea: There are two sets of brothers in the National, the Dessners and the Devendors, float rumors of a rivalry across sibling lines, where a Dessner pairs up with a Devendor, and see where that gets you.
• Be Weirder Looking. Ask yourself: Would Radiohead be considered as transgressive if Thom Yorke didn’t look like Thom Yorke? God forbid handsome front man Matt Berninger do anything to permanently damage his look, but an outlandishly asymmetrical haircut, à la Cassie or Rihanna, could do the trick.
• Get Kanye’s Co-Sign. The Hail Mary play, especially since Kanye has mostly given up on excitedly blog-ranting about rock bands he hears of way after everyone else in exchange for posting images of naked cat-face women. But if you do manage to get his approval — do you perhaps know of any gallery openings he might be attending? Milan Fashion Week after-parties? — it’s a game-changer for a boring band. Just ask Coldplay.