The National seem to have slowly and purposefully shuffled towards legendary status over the years.
Collaborating with superstars and boasting a rabid fanbase, they create wild bursts of rock about random moments of social interaction or elegiac laments about abandoned clothing or emotions with extraordinarily colourful and inscrutable lyrical content.
Less regularly, as with the last track on their intriguingly titled 2023 album First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, they will write something that seems to have a skewed version of mass appeal.
One of their most popular songs, “I Need My Girl,” works because of its title. Despite more confounding lyrical imagery, and thanks to a delectable guitar riff, you can adopt it as a sweet love song of longing for someone special simply because “I need my girl” keeps getting repeated.
“Send For Me” repeats that trick but works as a distant cousin to REM’s “Everybody Hurts” or “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers.
It’s a self-help song that makes you feel that there’s just a little glimmer of hope out there somewhere.
What the Dessner brothers seem to excel at again and again is finding the essence of a recurring riff or background chug for Matt Berninger to sing over. In this song, the musical accompaniment gently transforms throughout the song adding tiny details as it goes but hardly breaks a sweat throughout.
But the words are a fantastic mix of that strange individual world that is conjured by The National’s lyrics, and a clear straight message.
It’s a message straight to the heart, and it comes from the title of the song.
So, in the verses we visit various strange places or scenarios that don’t quite make sense. Perhaps they are dreams. They feel to me like the lyrical equivalent of a scene from a Wes Anderson film. Familiar and yet slightly removed from reality.
Berninger starts with:
If you’re ever sitting at the airport and you don’t wanna leave
Don’t even know what you’re there for, send for me
And then continues with:
If you’re ever heartsick in an elevator full of bachelorettes
Cornered in and it’s taking forever, please don’t forget
Well, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? His imagination is still at full tilt with the other verses:
If you’re ever at a glass-top table selling your ideas
To swivel-chairing underlings who just don’t see it
If you’re singing in a song museum without a drop to drink
And you can’t even make eye contact, can’t even think
Now that I know one exists, I’m really keen to sing in a song museum at some point. But the last visit to a slightly unreal place is, I think, my favourite:
If you’re ever in a psychiatric greenhouse with slip-on shoes
Wipe a smile on the shatterproof windows, I’ll know what to do
If you’re ever in a gift shop dying inside, filling up with tears
‘Cause you thought of somebody you loved you haven’t seen in years
His deep, resonant voice whispers the words gently. He pauses in weird places through each line. He reassures you that whatever weird psychedelic scenario you’re in, you’ll be okay. As he says:
Send for me whenever, wherever
Send for me, I’ll come and get you
And you believe it.
And as you believe it, you also tap your foot in a relaxed manner to another wonderful middle-aged ache of a conclusion to another brilliant album by The National.