LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening

A triumphant (last?) album for dance-rock veteran James Murphy.

“But I was there”, boasted James Murphy, the man behind the groove-rendering sounds of LCD Soundsystem, on the band’s first single and arguably their thesis statement, “Losing My Edge." In the song, Murphy namedrops over 50 influential yet lesser-known artists and flaunts the great rock ’n’ roll experiences he has had, showcasing his hipster credibility while explaining how he is losing it. In a lot of ways, such a strange concept for a song really describes what James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem is about. As co-founder of DFA Records (one of the best electronic labels around) and as veteran of numerous bands, the 40 year-old Murphy has lived much of his life on the “scene” and has been both enriched and jaded by his experiences. Enriched because LCD Soundsystem’s sound is almost as varied as his record collection: borrowing from disco, CGBG’s punk, vocal jazz, spoken word, early techno, and even German art rock. Jaded as Murphy is, he has sung with a rare honesty about aging, self-doubt, and regret; subjects that don’t usually lend themselves to dance music. But LCD’s third and likely final album, This Is Happening, displays more of his rare vulnerability and uncanny wit, as well as more proof that he is master of his dance-punk domain.

This Is Happening opens with “Dance Yrself Clean”, which moseys its way into your ear drums with a restrained synth and a helping of cowbell, before the rambunctious synth breaks free and kicks the song into gear to finish off the 9-minute opener. While only nine songs, the album is truly an epic as every song but clear cut single “Drunk Girls“ and “I Can Change“ (which rests at 5:54) breaks the six minute mark.

Speaking of the odd man out on This Is Happening, "Drunk Girls" is, nonetheless, an amusing punk ditty that is a tongue-in cheek nod to the club lifestyle, drawing attention to the ridiculous behavior of the inebriated. “One Touch” follows, which is an excellent display of Murphy’s supreme song crafting, as he isn’t afraid to let the hypnotic industrial beat sink in while still allowing for the song evolve fluidly. On “All I Want”, Murphy lets the beautifully soaring slide guitar do the talking over a sturdy piano line while his vocals take a back seat, before finally erupting at the end with desperate plea "Take me home."

Lyrics are often brushed to the side with dance music, which is a shame considering Murphy is one of the finest songwriters in the business. As someone who turned down a writing job for Seinfeld in its infancy, Murphy writes with an incredible amount of sardonic humor and wit, but has also written equally well on heavy subjects. On his 2007 masterwork, Sound of Silver, Murphy penned two timeless songs in "All My Friends" and "Someone Great," with the former being about aging and the realizing the mistakes in your life when it's too late, and the latter being about the pain of losing someone close and the aftermath of such a tragic loss.

This Is Happening is no slouch lyrically as it includes more of Murphy’s clever yet poignant songwriting, which is at its best on “I Can Change”, “You Wanted A Hit” and “Pow Pow." The funky synth in “I Can Change” underlines Murphy trying to convince a loved one—but maybe more so himself—that he can still make the relationship work. “You Wanted A Hit” opens with a soft shimmering disco melody before Murphy doubles the song as a revolt against the money-centric music business as well as an interesting analogy for relational disappointment. You wanted the truth/And then you said you want proof/I guess you’re used to liars/Saying what they want/You wanted it smart/But honestly I’m not smart/No, honestly we’re never smart/We fake it, fake it all the time. “Pow Pow” is LCD’s humorous guide to conflict-resolution, complete with disco bass, frenetic bongos, classic LCD ranting, and Super Punch-out!! style arcade sounds making for one of the most furiously fun LCD songs to date. Murphy plays mediator as he explains, With you on the outside/Me on the inside/There’s advantages to both/And me being uptight/And you being all right/There’s advantages to each.

The album closes with two vastly different songs. The bugged-out schmaltz of “Somebody’s Calling Me” has an off-key fuzzy synth masking Murphy’s jazzy croon, which is perhaps the most perplexing song on the album, while closer “Home”, is not only a stunning album closer, but would serve as an fitting end to the LCD Soundsystem catalog if this is indeed the end. Where “Losing My Edge” displayed the humor and cultural savvy of a season vet, “Home” has Murphy taking off his party hat to try to convince a friend to avoid mistakes he has made. It’s a touching moment for a one-of-a-kind talent, and one can only hope it isn't his last.

1 Comment

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Anonymous reviewed…

Great review! And a great album, too. Well done, Relevant.

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