Album Review: The National – Laugh Track

By Jay Mitchell
By September 18, 2023 Album, Reviews

Following an announcement on Friday at their Homecoming Festival in Ohio, The National have dropped their surprise album Laugh Track. Coming just five months after The First Two Pages of Frankenstein, Laugh Track is the second half of a double album which when put together is 23 songs and nearly two hours worth of melancholy brilliance.

Laugh Track shines where its predecessor fell short, with the return of actual drums replacing the electronic drum machine that featured on much of …Frankenstein. Drummer Bryan Devendorf brings back a sound that was a staple of earlier albums such as Alligator and Boxer, with his drumming carrying an early 2000’s indie vibe on tracks like ‘Deep End (Paul’s In Pieces)’, ‘Space Invader’ and the epic closing song ‘Smoke Detector’.

The album features three guest appearances with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon adding backing vocals on ‘Weird Goodbyes’, Phoebe Bridgers getting a much more prominent feature on ‘Laugh Track’ and Rosanne Cash trading verses with Matt Berninger on ‘Crumble’.

Between the two albums released this year, Phoebe Bridgers has featured on three tracks, however ‘Laugh Track’ instantly stands out from the two on …Frankenstein. Both experts in making sad songs, Berninger and Bridgers sing the lines together “maybe we’ll never lighten up, maybe this isn’t gonna quit. I think it’s never coming back, maybe we’ve always been like this”, killing your mood in the best possible way.

‘Coat On A Hook’ feels like the most cliché song The National have ever put out with Berninger singing about being alone at a party, which I’ve lost count how many times this has appeared in their songs. ‘Crumble’ is countryfied indie song, which is a total difference in sound to anything on Laugh Track or …Frankenstein.

Sadness and melancholy are a guarantee when it comes to The National, however on Laugh Track there’s less piano than …Frankenstein. Losing the piano means the return of the Dessner twins interlocking guitars. ‘Turn Off The House’ and ‘Space Invader’ are brimming with signature Dessner guitar licks and feel like they’ve pulled the energy of their live shows into a record for the first time with extended instrumental outros.

Closing the album is ‘Smoke Detector’ which comes in at nearly 8 minutes. Dessner guitar licks, Devendorf’s prominent drum sound and Berninger almost rambling – this is The National at their best. With them going back to an indie rock sound that hasn’t appeared on one of their studio albums in over a decade ‘Smoke Detector’ is the stand out song from both Laugh Track and …Frankenstein.

When …Frankenstein was announced Matt Berninger was open about his writer’s block before getting into the studio for these albums, not that you would notice. While both albums have highs and lows for the most part they show The National at the peak of their powers. Seamlessly transitioning from their ‘sad dad’ depressing lovesick ballads to full indie rock bangers, this is a band at the top of their game. With a UK and EU tour beginning this week, it is an exciting time to be a fan of The National.