MATT BERNINGER Serpentine Prison gets 9/10

Matt Berninger 

Serpentine Prison


Matt Berninger has fronted the iconic indie rock band The National for two decades and is ready to venture out into the musical world alone now. Serpentine Prison is the title track from his forthcoming debut album, scheduled for release on October 2.

Berninger actually wrote the song back in December 2018, just after the recording of The National’s I Am Easy To Find. The Brooklyn singer had contributed work to several outside projects in recent years, including songs for Boardwalk Empire and Between Two Ferns: The Movie, but every indication points to this being a very self-reflexive musical exercise, perhaps what Berninger has needed.

Serpentine Prison was produced by Booker T. Jones after Berninger signed a record deal in April with Concord Records to release the album on his and Jones’ new imprint Book Records. It’s also stacked with supreme contributors, including Andrew Bird, Matt Barrick (The Walkmen) and Hayden Desser.

His band The National deals in sombre and introspective ruminations, and this grey palette – certainly not a slight – remains on Serpentine Prison, as evidenced by the thoughtful accompanying video directed by Chris Sgroi and Berninger himself. Berninger remains a haunted narrator, sounding like a man on the edge of sobriety and contending with this struggle: he describes having “a pretty hard time without drugs, without love”; later on he seems to connect this inner torment to the larger woes of his country, the United States, when he says “Total frustration/Deterioration/Nationalism/Another moon mission”. Whatever personal issues one may have right now, we’re all still submerged in an ocean of general and unprecedented grief and depression.

The instrumentation is furtive, restrained, and rightly so, allowing the despondency of Berninger’s baritone to emanate fully. Berninger is our cynical late night crooner, pouring out a tale of addiction and destruction to an understanding audience – the rest of the album will surely contain a plethora of other such tales and tidings.