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The National: Trouble Will Find Me (4AD) 

"I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in a park," Matt Berninger bellows near the end of the lovely "Pink Rabbits," a song that seems to tumble out from its lugubrious, wobbly piano melody. The lyric serves as a litmus test. If you appreciate Berninger's ability to sincerely peddle such winking irony, then Trouble Will Find Me offers you another sturdy outing by the National; otherwise, you might want to turn away now.

The professionalism of Trouble Will Find Me—where headliners like Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Sharon Van Etten and Sufjan Stevens dutifully accept background roles to sing backing vocals or program a drum machine—makes for a compositionally lush album. Still, the stubborn plod of "Heavenfaced" undercuts the power of its swelling coda, and "Slipped" is a forgettable rumble.

When all systems are synched, however, the results are phenomenal. Opener "I Should Live in Salt" thrillingly fuses rounded acoustic guitar with gurgling, ringing electronics. "Demons" is a beauty of dark corners and bright pockets. The churning guitars, skittering drums and harmonica climax on "Sea of Love" in a way that expertly synthesizes the National's entire history (from alt-country to midlevel anthems). Meanwhile, closer "Hard to Find" is the only kind of potent whisper that could conclude such an emotional work.

Trouble Will Find Me is the National album both capable of appeasing longtime fans and converting recalcitrant critics—the latter will likely not take the bait. Too bad, since the album's snaking charms are wonderfully on display in "This Is the Last Time."

More by Michael Petitti

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