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Matt Berninger croons over the opening notes of his debut solo album, rolling in that wine-o poet style that’s become his staple as frontman of indie heroes The National. It’s a fitting mission statement for what follows – the work of an artist at his most exposed, drawing on his external muses to really give you the truest portrait of himself.
‘Serpentine Prison’ was originally going to be a covers record, made with R&B legend Booker T. Jones, who also produced Willie Nelson’s 1978 collection of pop standards, ‘Stardust’. That record provided the blueprint for what Berninger set out to make. He was so inspired by stepping into the shoes of his heroes and living in their songs that, two weeks later, they’d finished recording 12 original songs with a host of guests – most notably David Bowie bassist and collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey.
The result is an open and timeless collection that finds the singer kneeling at the altar of classic songwriting. There’s opulence in the Americana sounds of the the yearning ‘Distant Axis’, while the Dolly Parton-inspired ‘One More Second’ really goes for a stroll with its blend of organs and jazzy rhythms over a desperate plea to stay together. ‘All For Nothing’ builds into a swooning orchestral surefire set-closer that sees him look back to childhood, and Dorsey’s regal guest vocals on the waltzing, elegantly wasted ‘Silver Springs’ is perfectly at home with the class of the rest of the record. - NME