SATURDAY OCTOBER 25, 2014
 
Blog MUSIC REVIEWS
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM
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Most listeners were introduced to James Murphy via a rundown of other artists: a list of underground influences, read out loud, formed the centrepiece of “Losing My Edge”, his debut single as LCD Soundsystem - “Pere Ubu, This Heat, The Slits," etc. It was a song about getting older and having your nightlife jacked by the next generation, and though some took it as a stab at self-conscious hipness and identity via a record collection, that’s not entirely accurate.

It was, I believe a celebration, of feeling cool the only way you can - through insider knowledge - and, far from feeling mocked, Murphy’s fans either happily returned to the artists he shouted out, or otherwise lined them up in a downloading queue for the first time. If Murphy was having a joke at anyone’s expense, it was his own as a curmudgeon, and anyone who can build up and tear down an image so effortlessly on their first single deserves a lot of credit.

To suspicious and hopelessly uncool types like myself, Murphy pulled off the gimmick because the song was undeniably catchy, lighthearted and immediate, in stylistic opposition, interestingly enough, to quite a few of the name-checked artists. Just as Murphy couldn’t deny being surrounded by young hipsters - “who are actually really, really nice” he assured us - few could deny the music, which despite being ridiculous and obnoxious, was actually really, really good.

But obnoxious it was, best exemplified by Murphy’s post-debut remix collection, Introns, in which he literally took a picture of his record collection, and scrawled LCD Soundsystem across it in crude lettering. That idea - that LCD sounded like decades of obtuse music absorbed by a secret fan of disco/pop - was intriguing but belied, as it gradually became apparent, that Murphy was only capable or interested in writing two kinds of songs: the “isn’t the club lifestyle ridiculous yet addictive” song and the “I’m old and sad and everything is changing” song. What exactly he got, artistically, out of listening to acts as unpredictable and abrasive as Captain Beefheart, Suicide, or Monks, I haven’t the slightest idea.

Now at 40, Murphy is too old to play the detached partygoer - via the awful self-parody of “Drunk Girls” - and too young to keep on with the nostalgia trips for his third album, This Is Happening. The two routines he’s mastered got calculated enough with Sound of Silver’s “All My Friends” - a Big Chill for Generation X if ever there was one - and here form the glut of the material. It’s a pretty good record with a lot of bloat; good thing it’s Murphy’s last, allegedly, under the LCD name. If he inflates it any further, the damn thing might explode (not in a positive way).

Take the opening Möbius strip of “Dance Yrself Clean”; the song begins with a lot of space for clicking percussion, single notes of synth, and Murphy’s talk/sing intonation, all playing equal yet separate roles, before erupting after three minutes into the kind of punk/disco takeoff fans expect. Finally, it moves out the way it came in, the slight percussion returning and forming a potentially infinite loop. It’s an interesting setup, but few listeners will have the patience to sit through its nine minutes more than, I’d safely guess, 10 per cent of the time. Like Animal Collective, LCD Soundsystem make great songs that are almost universally skippable after their halfway marks, slavish to the opportunity of effects and production trickery.

After a strong first half - with the brilliant “I Can Change”, and the straightest rock song I think I’ve heard from Murphy, “All I Want” - This Is Happening reveals its excess weight. Someone tell me what the hell is going on with the double shot of “You Wanted a Hit” and “Pow Pow”, a collective 17 minutes of clinical synthesizer instruction? “Hit” shows Murphy telling off the A&R suit who most likely doesn’t even exist in his orbit, and in the 2010 state of music, who wants to hear a sarcastic, patience-testing song about rejecting pop artifice? “Pow Pow” is passable, but too many inside jokes and novelty references tangle the point of its eight minutes.

James Murphy is a talented guy. He also lives in a time of unlimited access to decades of potential influence, like everyone else of course. But he seems to be one of the few people willing to do more than passively acknowledge the building blocks of his music. This Is Happening isn’t an inglorious potential end to LCD Soundsystem as a band, but it doesn’t exactly anticipate a huge shift should he ever go “solo.”

lcdthis452400x400.jpgArtist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: This is Happening (DFA, 65 minutes)
Rating: 3.5/5
Key Tracks: “I Can Change”, “Dance Yrself Clean”, “All I Want”

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