Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison

Comfortably mid-paced, surprises are few.
Label: Book’s Records
Released: 16th October 2020
Rating: ★★★

“Digging around my own garbage” is one way of describing the song-writing process, but then Matt Berninger always did have a way with words. But following a period of writing for others, the familiar ruins of his broken heart are where he digs the deepest on ‘Serpentine Prison’, his solo debut (despite most of his band and regular collaborators dropping in at one point or another).

Muted and subtle throughout, yet never less than charming, ‘Serpentine Prison’ is pretty much what you would expect from The National’s frontman. There’s a lot to love in the chilled, late-night-when-everyone’s-gone-home vibe of ‘Distant Axis’, while the slow build of ‘Take Me Out Of Town’ is reminiscent of the heights of High Violet. Skipping around in style, if not in tempo, it is a perfect balm to the chaos of life even when he hits rock bottom – a reminder that bangers aren’t all you need on a record. Comfortably mid-paced, surprises are few however.

Long-term fans of The National will undoubtedly love the pure undiluted Matt-ness on display here, his familiar sense of melancholy and sad romance dripping through every song. But without the bands’ sense of propulsion and explosive charge, the more casual observer may still be left wondering what all the fuss is about. One for the faithful then.

Jamie MacMillan

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