There is no new art. Everything has been done before. The best art these days is merely a carefully disguised echo chamber. Every good band working right now has a musical antecedent in the past, which seems to produce a kind of anxiety of influence. This is one of the ways that we can explain the Balkanization of independent music: people are quick to identify new fusion subgenres in an attempt to refute claims of derivativeness. But James Murphy doesn’t worry about any of this. At all. LCD Soundsystem is an unabashedly fantastic amalgam of Liquid Liquid and ESG and Kraftwerk and Neu! and David Bowie and Talking Heads and Detroit Techno (“1985 . . . ’86 . . . ‘87”). Long ago now, he made his peace with it by airing out his complaints and his worries over the funky bassline of “Losing My Edge.”
Murphy arrived fully formed 8 years ago with a string of singles (“Losing My Edge,” “Give It Up,” Yeah,” “Movement”) so good that his debut record already sounded like a greatest hits package. And now, after having recorded what is arguably the greatest song statement of the decade, LCD Soundsystem is back with This is Happening. Despite the fact that the terrific success of Sound of Silver has only invited unreasonable expectations, This is Happening is a high water mark for LCD Soundsystem. Whereas the previous two albums frequently sounded like great song collections, This is Happening is a great album. From the stunning opener “Dance Yrself Clean” to the final salvo that is “Home,” the album is a beautiful sequenced emotional travelogue through modern masculine consciousness. The emotional dynamic of the album, then, tends to look like the cardiogram of a heart attack patient. Even LCD’s party anthems have a resonate twinge of melancholy to them. Take the lead single, “Drunk Girls,” for example. After a punchy back and forth comparison between drunk boys and drunk girls, Murphy reaches the song’s climax by plainly asking, “Just be honest with me/Honestly/Honestly/Unless it hurts, why do it?” Elsewhere, on the classically funky “Pow Pow,” Murphy rants about the kids these days: “Your time will come, but tonight is our night, so you should give us all your drugs.” But the song’s cheery playfulness is threatened by some nasty glances in the mirror: “I’m paralyzed and looking through you/But if nothing’s right, we try anyway.” Murphy’s ability to piss on his own parade makes him an endearing and charming figure.
LCD Soundsystem has always been their most potent when Murphy examines the emotional tectonics shifting underneath the cool swagger of his sleek disco. And it’s these moments that are the highlights of This is Happening. The motorik beat of “All I Want” carries Murphy along as he admits that all he wants is pity: “From now on, I’m someone different/’Cause it’s no fun to be predictably lame.” But instead of sounding pathetic, it comes across as a triumph of honesty. Murphy has never been one to pull punches aimed at his own reflection, and “I Can Change” picks up essentially where the galaxy of spaced-out synths leaves him at the end of “All I Want.” But “I Can Change” is even more bracingly honest: “I can change/If it helps you fall in love.” As a song about blindly sacrificing yourself for attention and affection, the song trades in the kind of clutching desperation that defines insecurity and doubt.
The album’s bookends will (and rightly should) garner the most attention. Both songs center on the redemptive possibilities of a good night out. On “Home,” the album’s closer, Murphy whips up the kind of melancholic disco shuffle that the band has been perfecting for years now. The song is full of well-earned lines of devastating verse: “And this is what you waited for/But under the lights, we’re all unsure/So tell me/What would make you feel better?” The song ends with some of Murphy’s best advice: “If you’re afraid of what you need/Look around you, you’re surrounded/It won’t get any better.” And then there’s “Dance Yrself Clean,” the album’s end-all-be-all masterpiece. Murphy understands that our best moments tend to throw our worst fears into stark relief. After all, we seek these moments to escape the doubt and the regret that crouches low in our minds in the small hours of the morning. With both of these songs, the simple act of going out to a club becomes a ritual, a ceremony, a group therapy session, a moment of redemption and happiness. This is a moment when you can get away from it all, while simultaneously realizing exactly what you’re escaping.
LCD Soundsystem have never tried to prove that they were anything more than a clever mash-up of Liquid Liquid and ESG and David Bowie. But among the thousand other things that This is Happening proves is that LCD Soundsystem are not great because they try to sound original. LCD Soundsystem are great because when the final cymbal splash ends “Home,” you realize that you’ve been dancing with a lump in your throat for the past 60 minutes.
Rating: 9 / 10