This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem (May 2010)

Of all of the albums from superb groups coming out this year (about five or so come out next month), none has been hyped as largely as LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening, largely thanks to 2007’s Sound Of Silver winning the Pazz And Jop Critics’ Poll, topping even M.I.A.’s Kala and Radiohead’s industry-challenging In Rainbows to earn the right to call itself the most critically well-regarded album of that year.  As is to be expected, LCD Soundsystem’s follow-up was expected to probably smash the entire world in two.  So when mastermind James Murphy announced that his third album with LCD Soundsystem would be his last, we couldn’t tell if he was completely lying, though he might have had the words of Neil Young (also an excerpt from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note) in mind: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”.

So if James Murphy is burning out, he’s going down in a blaze of glory.  On top of releasing the most hyped album of the completely loaded 2010, he scored the soundtrack to Greenberg, a critically loved crossover to serious acting for Ben Stiller directed by Noah Baumbach, the director behind The Squid And The Whale.  While Murphy’s soundtrack complemented the film just fine, it did little more than whetting our appetites to the point where we didn’t starve before This Is Happening happened.

Then we got “Drunk Girls”.  “Drunk Girls”, in the vein of “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “North American Scum”, is a fun song that’s meant for you to dance your ass off to.  It echoes The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” in its verse’s call and response nature, but it contains those silly-but-true lyrics that Murphy rocks at writing.  “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut/It comes back, but it’s never the same”, says then sings Murphy.  “Drunk Girls” did everything it needed to do.  It held us over until the new album was released to the wild world of the internet weeks later.  With nine songs clocking in at sixty-five minutes, zero more songs and ten more minutes than Sound Of Silver, This Is Happening is structurally approximate to its predecessor.  You would think that Murphy would try to escape comparisons to his previous work, but he practically dares the world to compare this album to the last.

So the big single, “Drunk Girls”, is almost in the same position that “North American Scum” was, and the songs with the most depth, much as the last time, are found in positions four and five, with “All I Want” and “I Can Change” serving in place of will-be-classics “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”, and the final four tracks all leading us out in a similar way to what we saw on Sound Of Silver.  Does any of that matter, though?  Sound Of Silver was the most ingeniously constructed album of the last decade, and while that kind of thing might piss Howard Roark off, Murphy uses a nearly-identical blueprint to build the kind of album that The Hold Steady have been promising: Less anthemic and more complex.  It sounds less like silver and more like something altogether more meaningful.

The best song here, “Dance Yrself Clean”, leads into the album as well as the perfect crescendo of “Get Innocuous!” did last time around, but “Dance Yrself Clean” chooses to start out simply with a great beat that sounds like something you’d program on your drum machine and play for hours on end in your basement.  Then it just kind of explodes after three minutes, and we realize that this is happening.

A notable difference between This Is Happening and Sound Of Silver is Murphy’s tendency towards engineering a believable chorus on most songs as opposed to building to a repeated, often titular line as he did on songs like “Someone Great” and “Us V Them”.  Most notably are the climactic songs at the center, the first of which, “All I Want”, finds Murphy speaking with a reserved honesty when he sings a chorus that we expect to be romantic but turns out self-deprecating: “And all I want is your pity/And all I want is your bitter tears”.  Then there’s the chorus of “I Can Change”, which I’d consider corny under most usual circumstances, but James Murphy earns it with such ease.  As a result, it might be the best lyric I’ve heard in a long time.  With the first three words repeated several times and the last two words repeated once, Murphy sings “I can change if it helps you fall in love” so convincingly that lovesick people everywhere are sure to adopt it.  With “I Can Change”, Murphy reestablishes what he showed us with “Time To Get Away”: He’s as marvelous of a singer as he is a lyricist, and he’s as clever as he is self-deprecating.  “Love is an open book to averse of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me”.

On “You Wanted A Hit” and “Pow Pow”, Murphy smartasses over his music like he did on the self-titled album’s “Losing My Edge”, and then “Home” ends the album, maybe being the last LCD Soundsystem song that we’ll ever hear.  I don’t like This Is Happening as much as Sound Of Silver, but the new album confirms James Murphy as one of the greatest and most influential musicians working today.  I don’t know if LCD Soundsystem will release any more songs, but I do know one thing.  From 2002’s “Losing My Edge”, the diatribes of a behind-the-times smartass complaining about hipsters, to 2007’s “All My Friends”, excitement for a reunion with old chums by a recently turned-optimist who “wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life”, or 2010’s “Home”, the sound of a universally-celebrated musician retiring at the very peak of his career, LCD Soundsystem has represented the zeitgeist of the indie rock movement for eight long years, and This Is Happening completes the band’s legacy.

A

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Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 11:32 PM  Leave a Comment  

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