Graceless by The National
Besides preternatural deftness at throttling a round engine, killamike has another skill that merits envy. He can watch a movie, and in his review of it, tell you it’s too long and then tell you the exact moment it should have ended. I don’t know how he does it. He told me with certainty that Hurt Locker should have ended with the protagonist staring at the boxes in the cereal aisle once he’d returned stateside, and his most brilliant was that the hilarious (and too long) This is 40 should have ended when Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann were walking out of their child’s school having dismantled Melissa McCarthy during a parent/teacher conference. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s great at it.
But, WD feels like he can discern the exact moment bands should stop releasing albums. That a particular album should be (or should have been) their last.
e.g. If Soundgarden ends with 1996’s Down on the Upside, it stands as grunge’s definitive statement by grunge’s definitive band. If Outkast never does anything after Speakerboxx/The Love Below, they go out the champions of Dirty South and G-Funk (N.B. If not Hip-Hop itself). Doesn’t everyone wish Led Zeppelin had finished with Physical Graffiti? Closer to home, and should I look at them with my rock critic’s unemotional eye, it’s clear that if Pearl Jam had stopped releasing albums after Yield (also, in my opinion, their definitive statement), then their legend as American’s Greatest Rock Band wouldn’t be sullied by their lackluster followups.
Conversely, how perfect were the careers of The Smiths and LCD Soundsystem?… But let’s be honest, the rest of this list of bands with perfect careers, or that ended on the perfect moment all resulted from a death. I don’t have to name them. You can rattle off the list yourself. And maybe we reflect fondly on their brief careers because they weren’t around long enough to vomit up their 16-years in the making King Animal, their Idlewild, their In Through the Out Door, their Riot Act.
But that’s not really fair is it? Most of this is not fair. While KM’s talent ends a movie before you nod off, as your ass falls asleep, before your sitter’s rent is paid for the month, my talent portends something bad happening to a band whose music I cherish. This isn’t cool.
Having said that, listening to The National’s excellent (N.B. and ominously titled for WD’s purposes) Trouble Will Find Me, I got the sense that this should be their final album, that everything following it by these gifted, reasonable, and eloquent middle-aged dads will inevitably descend into full-throated and boring dad-rock. The National reached their peak with 2010 stunning High Violet, and TWFM is the necessary follow-up, securing the loose ends, letting me know that if they wanted to they could drift through middle age comfortably knowing they defined Indie Rock (N.B. real, marginally popular, and melancholy Indie Rock) for a decade.
But while using your gift to end movies early is decidedly not selfish, wanting bands to cease doing what they love so as not to sully the image you have of them decidedly is. So I won’t do it, and in 2-4 years when I’m even more entrenched in the dad-rock demographic than I am now, maybe The National’s next album will speak to me. But it will prolly sound like the Doobie Brothers.