When you think about it, The National is the perfect band to contribute a song to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. They are, after all, the band best known for making heartbreak, doom, and a bleak future gorgeously beautiful. At its emotional core, Catching Fire is all about fighting for your life while still suspecting that there’s no way to get an honest-to-goodness happy ending. Sounds like the perfect subject matter for Matt Berninger and company, then.
And they definitely don’t disappoint with their contribution, a swirling, moody lament called “Lean”. It’s definitely one of the more restrained tracks from their recent catalogue, considering how complex so many of the tracks from Trouble Will Find Me are. “Lean” mostly relies on acoustic guitars to carry its weight, with mournful strings joining in halfway through the track. It’s definitely a case of “less is more”, because the relative simplicity of the instrumentals puts all the more focus on vocals.
Even for The National, this is some pretty somber stuff. “Everybody needs a prayer, needs a friend / Everybody knows the world’s about to end,” croons Berninger at the start. Appropriately enough, most of the lyrics are concerned with finding someone to comfort you as you’re dying or as the world’s ending. (Which, if you think about it, pretty much go hand in hand.)
There’s the usual National graveyard sentiment present, to be sure. “Dying is easy,” Berninger soothes us in the chorus, right after he cautions that our “lover leads to smithereens.” Despite that warning, the line from “Lean” that really sticks with you is “I believe my love and my love relieves me.”
If “Lean” is about the things we want in the times when the going gets tough, it’s a gorgeous tribute to the simple things, like “a sip of wine to drink”, to the more existential, like “a reason why they run”, to the emotionally tragic, like “a lie they don’t want to keep”.
“Lean” follows in the tradition of the best of The National, combining doomsday ruminations with subtle, beautiful instrumentals. This track may be an elegiac tribute to the end, but it’ll make you marvel at those last moments.