On the surface, the mantra for The National’s work could seem very dower. As Matt Berninger told the Guardian, “A lot of [our songs] are sad and about death.” However, as he rightfully adds, they go about it in such a bracing way that the songs almost seem to triumph over it, “In really fun ways.”
Very few songs in recent years have rung out with quite so much triumphant poignancy as ‘England’. It is the sort of song that cries out for an emotional montage and many broadcasters have obliged. It swells to a crescendo that could just about cause Nelson to abseil from his column.
While the songs somewhat cryptic lyrics could be about writer’s block and Berninger’s inability to come up with a song to appease the band’s London-based label 4AD, or about star-crossed lovers separated by an ocean and a river, the theme remains the same of a singer being separated from something, acquiescing to the reality of that separation and at the same time sort of overcoming it by the time of the triumphant finale.
The track first featured on the band’s 2010 record, High Violet. Up until the predecessor, Boxer, the band had only garnered a cult following. While their early records are still an essential part of their back catalogue it wasn’t until the widespread acclaim of Boxer that they began to get anything other than subterranean adoration. High Violet followed up in style and now they’re one of the biggest ‘sad dad’ bands there is, thanks in part, to tracks like the scintillating ‘England’.
The defining performance of the song is undoubtedly during the bands absolutely astounding live set outside of the Sydney Opera House in Australia’s Circular Quay. Beneath the backlit Harbour Bridge, the band roused a relatively ‘intimate sized’ crowd with some of the finest engineered outdoor sounds on YouTube.
While the set as a whole is chocked full of the band’s biggest songs, all performed perfectly well, if your searching for ‘England’ you’ll find it at 1:24:44 (timestamped in the comment), and might we add, once the repeats of ‘Three Lions’ and ‘World in Motion’ have gotten a bit too much, it proves to be a fantastically poignant blood pumping alternative soundtrack to tomorrow’s Euros Final.