The asshole always gets the girl, we all know that. It’s written across the face of every dashing lowlife and average Joe like a cosmic axiom delineating all coquetry. And guys, contrary to your little sisters’ amative exhortation, Zach Braff gets yumhole because he’s Zach Braff, not because he’s nice. All-Star QB Johnny Red perennially woos every Suzie Sue only to ditch them like rag dolls for other escapades while, per usual, you find yourself being the sexless comfort shoulder for the heart-broken girl you’ve fawned since 8th grade. Does she reciprocate? Does she, as the movies often envision, finally comprehend her errant amative project to change the asshole into a prince? The hell she does.
The asshole isn’t some quarterback archetype anymore, that’s too static and mythical a reference. Instead he’s skinny and curt with a somewhat demure gait; his confidence isn’t exposed through vainglorious pick-up lines or a letter jacket. No, the way he wins the girl is by making her believe every single detail of his speech, dangling the promise of a better life and a better man because he partly believes those promises too. With each broken heart he leaves also a shard of his own worth, attempting to compensate for the damage he’s done. Matt Berninger is the new quarterback and ‘Alligator’ is the story.
Berninger’s lanky baritone is the centerpiece of the album, slinking between and through each track with a drunken, haphazard quality. Immediate comparisons to Nick Cave are obvious, but Berninger often exorcises his demons in a far more dramatic fashion, like when he screams “Abel c’mon/ Give me the keys, man/ Everything’s gone damn wrong/ Well my mind is gonna rip” on ‘Abel’ or “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November, Mr. November, I won’t fuck us over” on ‘Mr. November.’ These songs are displays of a far more desperate character, one who seeks penitence from last-ditch pinky swears while simultaneously exposing more of the frayed playboy at his wit’s end. There the instruments blare with a full might to expose his turmoil, the two sets of brothers comprising the group playing their instruments with amplified vigor and endurance.
Of course those two tales only show the character when things fall apart. Most of the album shows him hovering in a redemptive state and winning, like the tender, restrained performances of ‘City Middle’ and ‘The Geese of Beverly Road’ where he tellingly sings, “C’mon, we’ll get away with it…” In fact, the first half of the album is dedicated to a softer forgiveness where we even find him giving in a little (‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’), capped off by the swimming guitars and soft rhythm of ‘Baby We’ll Be Fine.’ Throughout we’re not exactly sure of Berninger’s affliction, though we know it’s real and he wants to allay the doubts of his lover. We also know that it’s bound to fail because his control sinks faster with each apology uttered.
‘Alligator’ delves into the weary head of a challenged lover, battered by his own failings and the constant effort to seek deliverance and contentment from the arms of another. It’s made acute because of both Berninger’s mellifluous, sometimes breathless performance, and a band that knows how to emphasize the most crucial parts of that performance rather than overwhelm. Berninger always seems to get the girl as easily as he loses her.
Release date: April 12, 2005
Label: Beggar's Banquet
Rating: 8.9 / 10
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