Certain Songs #1227: The National – “Mr. November”

Album: Alligator
Year: 2005

Guaranteed that at least one person out there pumped their fist and exclaimed “yeah!” when they saw I was doing this song.

And while I always had a fraught relationship with a lot of the bands that came out that post-Strokes New York City explosion you read about in Meet Me In The Bathroom — never quite got Interpol, went from disdain to utter love for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the more they moved away from rock, and we all know what happened to The Strokes — The National finally got me with 2005’s Alligator, and I’ve enjoyed their music consistently ever since.

Consisting of lead singer Matt Berninger deeply emoting over a pair of brothers (Aaron & Bryce Dessner) on guitar and another pair (Scott & Bryan Devendorf) as the rhythm section, the best National songs thrive on the tension between an always jumpy rhythm section — Bryan Devendorf is a monster — locked-in guitars and Berninger’s ongoing need to be coaxed to the front of the stage.

That’s the beautiful thing about “Mr. November:” the contrast between Berninger on the choruses, where’s he’s hiding like Murmur-era Michael Stipe, and the chorus, where he’s screaming like Monster-era Michael Stipe.

So at first, guitars are shimmering and Berniger is nowhere to be found.

This is nothing like it was in my room
In my best clothes
Trying to think of you
This is nothing like it was in my room
In my best clothes

But slowly, almost imperceptibly, Berninger sneaks forward, and as the Dessners start shredding and the Devendorfs turn into a tornado, he starts screaming:

I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November
I’m Mr. November, I won’t fuck us over
I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November
I’m Mr. November, I won’t fuck us over

And. It. Is. Breathtaking. Every single time.

While I naturally assumed “Mr. November” was at least partially inspired by the then-regular post-season heroics of Derek Jeter (and still loved it), it turns out that it was written about John Kerry, or at least the difficulty of dealing with the bullshit of running for president.

But of course, none of that really mattered: what mattered what the utter passion Berninger put into it, as well as the genius alternating of “I won’t fuck us over” and “I’m Mr. November” and that one time he gets stuck on “I won’t fuck us over, I won’t fuck us over, I won’t fuck us over” like he already knows that somehow, someway, he’s going to end up fucking us over anyways.

“Mr. November”

“Mr. November” performed live in Brooklyn, 2010

“Mr. November” performed live in Chicago, 2009

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