EP review of The National's A Skin, A Night / The Virginia released through Beggars Banquet.
The National may be the least commercially accessible offering from New York's post-millennial underground scene, but over the course of the past decade they've gradually built up both a loyal following and a critically acclaimed reputation for producing some of the most pristine-yet-poignant guitar pop since Johnny Marr got bored of The Smiths. Right from the moment their self-titled debut first saw the light of day in 2001, their potential has always been evident and last year's 'Boxer', album number four in the grand scheme of things, finally seemed to lift them to the heady heights of contemporaries such as Interpol, which is no mean feat in itself.
What we have here then is a double disc set that boasts a feature-length DVD ('A Kin, A Night') and a twelve-song audio CD of b-sides, rarities and demos ('The Virginia EP') that represents good value for money for avid fans of The National whichever side of the Atlantic you may reside.
However, as someone still not totally convinced by the lavish praise bestowed on them, whether or not this collection would alter that opinion is still in doubt. Sure enough, 'The Virginia EP' is an interesting aside that highlights not only Berninger's prolific songwriting talents and unique vocal styling (think Leonard Cohen after finishing off a whole duty free's worth of Marlboro lites) but also shows that when they tackle other people's songs, as they do here with Bruce Springsteen's 'Mansion On The Hill', they make it their own to the point where you can almost visualise The Boss handed over a cheque for a percentage of the royalties.
No, it's the DVD that lets the package down here. Getting established French director Vincent Moon involved was probably a sound move in terms of enhancing the band's name in more mainstream circles, but the end result is a bit of a mismatch of ideas that mixes the pretentious with the clueless, and ultimately deems 'A Skin, A Night' largely unwatchable as a complete entity from start to finish.
All in all, The National would probably have been better off just releasing 'The Virginia EP' as a stand-alone taster for their next long player, as Hollywood doesn't beckon for their celluloid careers if 'A Skin, A Night' is anything to go by.
A wasted opportunity then.Maybe?