Release Date: May 18, 2010
Record label: DFA/Virgin
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic, Alternative
Don't be fooled by lead single Drunk Girls. The short, bouncy romp (best described as a cross between Blur's Girls & Boys and the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat) is fun enough but easily the worst song of the bunch, and completely unrepresentative of the rest of the album. As James Murphy croons on You Wanted A Hit, "We don't do hits," and we've got no problem with that, especially when he's come up with an album this strong.
James Murphy is a badass. Beyond that, he’s a classy badass. He’s the wittiest lyricist working today, a fantastic musician, can make a song work for eight minutes with nothing but a repetitive loop and an enchanting vocal performance, and, in his middle age, has made a string of three near perfect albums. Now he’s done, but with a flawless legacy, one that was not only fun but full of social contemplation, the most heartbreaking of break-up songs and one of the most instantly nostalgic albums (2007’s Sound of Silver) ever made.
You don’t have to look far beyond the Berlin Wall to glean the main point of LCD Soundsystem’s third full-length release, This is Happening. On their first two albums, man-behind-the-band James Murphy — also half of the DFA producing team — drew upon his professional deejaying skills to create brilliant-if-disjointed ? patchworks of dance-punk jams (”Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”) and synth-pop ? lullabies (”Someone Great”). With This Is Happening, Murphy & Co.
Listen to LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening. James Murphy’s powerhouse funtime band goes out on top Over the course of three proper full-length albums and a smattering of singles, LCD Soundsystem—the oft-one-man-show of New York DJ, producer and DFA Records co-honcho James Murphy—has become an increasingly sure bet. But it wasn’t always so.
While discussing the burden of influence in 2005, James Murphy told us, "The Strokes are swimming up some incredibly serious stuff: Velvet Underground. Television. It's kinda soul-crushing in a way to listen to 'Perfect Day' and say, 'I'm gonna go write a song like that,' and it'll be fucking horrible by comparison." At that point, the Strokes had yet to squander their leather-clad, LES cool, and LCD Soundsystem were still, mostly, a Williamsburg blip.
In seeming defiance of the hype that can so easily crush the potential and ambition dozens of today’s most amped up bands exude, LCD Soundsystem head honcho James Murphy has brazenly absorbed the mounting anticipation for his project’s oncoming album with what appears to be the reassuring calm of a seasoned pro. As expectations built skyward for This Is Happening, it would have been easy to feel let down—no matter how high these nine singular tracks climbed—with Murphy’s third opus, given how much has been piled onto it. What’s striking about what’s been produced is how flippantly Murphy brushes off that tension, crafting an album as spellbinding and addictive as anything he’s released in the past while taking ardent liberties with the approach he uses with his familiar-by-now manic dance-punk hysteria.
On “One Touch,” “Pow Pow,” and “You Wanted a Hit,” we see Murphy in familiar territory, cracking wise and crafting near perfect rhythm sections before diving into the dangerous ground of “Somebody’s Calling Me.” The album closes with the indelible “Home,” which revisits a vocal line from “Dance Yrself Clean” and plays like a long goodbye to a loved one that grows into an Indian summer, where days and weeks pass without a glance at the calendar. But like all good things—especially good byes—it comes to an end. And with that, Mr.
James Murphy has managed to do something very curious. He's attained a position in the minds of LCD Soundsystem fans as the paragon of a kind of lazy, bored, bitterly self-aware New York cool, but he's accomplished this by painting himself as both an eager participant in and occasional victim of the merry-go-round wreck that is youth culture. Starting with "Losing My Edge" but really picking up steam on 2007's Sound of Silver, he's been examining himself DJing at fashion shows while broadcasting dispatches from the astral plane of hip, solidifying his image as an occasionally self-deprecating, cooler-than-thou emissary to anyone who's ever been at a party or club and thought, "Oh God, what is the point?" Murphy in interviews comes across as someone who would work to actively dispel that image, or at least regret its existence, but all that This Is Happening can do about that is give it a fresh coat of paint and a nice display case.
The sleeve notes to Big Black's astonishing 1987 album Songs About Fucking may be among the most entertaining in rock history. Amid frontman Steve Albini's descriptions of his songs' charming subject matter – including the Colombian necktie, "a particularly humiliating way to die that involves having your throat slit from ear-to-ear so your tongue can flop out your neck" – there lurks a piece of wisdom. "Hey," wrote Albini, explaining his decision to call time on the band just as it appeared to be at the height of its powers, "breaking up is an idea that occurred to far too few groups." You could spend hours listing artists whose reputation would have been burnished had they made the tough decision to pack it in at the top of their game.
Love him or hate him, it’d be hard to deny that James Murphy’s gotten away with a lot over the years. Although few would dispute his reign as New York’s king of arty dance rock, Murphy’s career under the LCD Soundsystem name consists of moments that would entail cred suicide for just about anybody else. On 2005’s self-titled debut alone, he turned five minutes of the same three-chord riff (no more clever than that of Weezer’s junior high hit of the same year, “Beverly Hills”) into a wiseass dancefloor anthem by way of a Daft Punk namecheck, unabashedly rewrote “Dear Prudence” (a move reminiscent of Oasis at best, or even Jet), and slung far too many lyrical throwaways to count (e.
Following up Sound of Silver was never going to be easy for LCD Soundsystem. There was so much positive reaction from music fans, the press, from everywhere, really, that almost any move James Murphy made was bound to be seen as inferior, or at the very least, flawed in some way. To his credit, he doesn’t try to do anything dramatically different on This Is Happening.
After only listening to the first track of This is Happening, I already had this entire review set out in my mind. I was going to start by talking about how everyone rightly lost their shit for Sound of Silver in 2007, refreshing my memory with gushing pieces of the time (‘It's an absolute joy to listen to, for every possible reason’ or ‘This is dance-rock for grown-ups: extraordinary’) before shaping the same general sentiment into my own hyperbolic sentences. I’d inevitably say something about New York, emphasising the influence and importance of environment in the music that James Murphy makes, pretentiously referencing Will Self’s Psychogeographic trek to said city in which he searches for ‘that urgent commingling of blood and soil’.
Don’t let the facts fool you. Sure, James Murphy and his merry pranksters did, in fact, record much of the third LCD Soundsytem album at the Mansion at 2451 Laurel Canyon (Rick Rubin’s pad, site of the recording of Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Bloodsugarsexmagik). But there’s not much sunlight to be heard on the dour This Is Happening. No, this is Murphy’s Berlin record.
Forget for a moment that This Is Happening was conceived and performed by a scene veteran whose first two studio LP’s of sardonic electro-rock were both critically acclaimed, and that one of them even cracked the Billboard Top 50. Similarly, disregard all the fawning press about how this same guy – with his permanent five o’clock shadow and tousled bedhead – is so inextricably hip that he has become synonymous with 21st century cool. Ignore all the hype and anticipation that dominated music websites and blogs in the weeks preceding this album’s release.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM “This Is Happening”. (DFA).
Despite occasional flashes of brilliance this is a patchy, derivative work. Chris Power 2010 Every album is to an extent the product of its creators’ record collections. That’s brazenly been the case with LCD Soundsystem since their arrival in 2002 with Losing My Edge, on which James Murphy at once mocks and vaunts the faultless alternative credentials of his own.