Ex-Ohioans the National are a Williamsburg quintet whose Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers expertly confuses clarity and fuzziness. From “Cardinal Song” on, their technique darkly lounge-lizards around. If you love someone, singer Matt Berniger begins, don’t let the person know; in fact, make that information The Last Acknowledgement. If that phrase conjures the translated title of some imaginary ’60s French film, it’s appropriate. The National’s music has a lot of Catherine Deneuve buried in it. After dispensing the advice, Berniger, whose crusty baritone recalls the great L.A. singer-songwriter David Baerwald, veers off to his chorus, which repeats the mysterious line “Don’t let her see your cardinal eyes.” Then comes a coda, unfluffy violin swirling, that nearly rewrites the song.
Elsewhere, Berniger investigates reality and illusion, women, pretty boys who’ve got to go, trophy wives whom he just knows “wander,” and “fashion coats” of inscrutable worth. The record floats a Leonard Cohen-Robert Smith vibe or two, but references fail this outfit. “Our erotic relationship was intellectually balanced between tenderness . . . and flights of fantasy,” writes Roger Vadim of the star of Barbarella in Bardot Deneuve Fonda: My Life With the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World. That’s more like it.
The National play Fez October 22.