No band has been simultaneously helped and hobbled by consistency quite like The National. The five-piece indie group has transformed from likeable losers to legitimate rock stars in the past decade, riding the strength of vocalist Matt Berninger’s oblique, red-wine-drunk lyrics and a flawless, crystalline sonic setup. Their immediately recognizable sound makes each new National album feel almost like a foregone conclusion — you can always count on the same kind of brooding excellence.
But on its latest, Sleep Well Beast, the band somehow manages to both defy and meet those expectations. Songs like “Born to Beg” and “Carin at the Liquor Store” contain the same piano-driven, introspective elements that permeated the band’s breakthrough album, 2007’s Boxer. This new release brims with completely novel approaches, like the stabby, Neil Young-inspired guitar work of “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” the Amnesiac-era electronica of “I’ll Still Destroy You,” and the raucous, hard-rocker “Turtleneck,” which could pass for a Dinosaur Jr. outtake (if you replaced Berninger’s baritone with J Mascis’ mumble). This is not a reinvention of the National — they would never undertake such a clichéd development. Sleep Well Beast simply represents the latest rewarding progression of a band that has made a career out of smart choices. It’s time to stop faulting The National’s members for their enduring excellence and celebrate them for what they are: one of music’s truly innovative bands. Will Reisman
At 7:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 14 and 15 at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley. $71; greek.theatreberkeley.com
Motörhead, Under Cover
When Lemmy Kilmister passed away in December 2015, many metal fans saw it as the end of an era — and rightfully so. Over the 40 years of its existence, Motörhead thrilled and influenced countless fans across several generations.
This week, with the posthumous release of Under Cover, a collection of cover tunes the band recorded over the course of its career — digitally available now, with CD and vinyl versions out next month — listeners get an inside look into the artists who influenced and inspired Kilmister and company.
Kicking off with a blistering version of the Judas Priest staple “Breaking The Law,” the compilation shows the band taking on a variety of artists and genres, from classic rock to metal to punk.
The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” gets new life with the driving rhythms of drummer Mikkey Dee and scorching yet bluesy guitar leads from Phil Campbell, topped off with Lemmy’s snarled phrasing of that diabolical handshake, “Pleased to meet you / Hope you guessed my name.”
Thundering versions of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” and The Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach” are among other standouts, as is the previously unreleased version of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which was taken from the 2015 sessions for Bad Magic, Motörhead’s last studio album, and was one of the last songs that Kilmister recorded before he died from cancer at age 70. The track is an appropriate one to be the first single, as Lemmy was a hero to chain-smoking mutton-chop-wearers worldwide. Sean McCourt