It’s almost impossible to dissect this track without discussing its near exclusion from the Catching Fire soundtrack. Originally entitled “Dying is Easy”, the label balked at the National’s morose title, conveniently forgetting their source material, as frontman Matt Berninger pointed out “it’s about killing kids; I don’t know how an album can be darker than that?” However, the frightening Darwinism on display in the series is easily outshone (or more appropriately overshadowed) by much of the band’s maudlin output. One of the “bounciest” numbers on this year’s Trouble Will Find Me found Berninger attempting to dull his pain any way he could and evincing suicide. Child-killing is cringe-worthy, but such bleak existentialism is soul crushing.
Renamed “Lean”, the Brooklyn by-way-of Cincinnati band’s contribution remains sullen. A skeletal guitar figure trudges in from the cold, as Berninger ruminates about the oncoming end of the world. In the opening couplet he’s not seeking a friend for a last hurrah; he’s hailing humanity’s dying gasps. “Love will lead us all to smithereens” he sings in a graveyard baritone, before a pedal steel crosses over into a skyward chorus. Much of Trouble Will Find Me concerned resignation and the original title (retained here in the chorus) continues the weary theme. The leaden basslines and trilling string sections attempt takeoff, but Berninger halts any departure. “I’m gonna let it in,” he half-whispers under a hail of thundering drum fills in the bridge. The easiest thing to do when you’ve got nothing left is to open up.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack drops November 22 through Lionsgate/Republic, listen to the band’s offering here.