And so it’s come to this: a final LCD Soundsystem album. James Murphy decided to disband his project after he got sick of touring and all the add-ons that come with the creative process, although he had cryptically said that maybe he’ll keep the band together… In any case, just inserting the album into a decoder like Cdex means that the album is called “Final Album” instead of “This Is Happening”. But even that title perhaps hints that the moment has finally come. But if it has, then Murphy can certainly be proud of his swansong.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t an album for people who get bored easily. Unlike this album’s predecessor, 2007’s acclaimed “Sound of Silver” which had may accessible singles and pop tunes, “This Is Happening” is filled with long musings and slow-burning tracks that require time and patience. First single “Drunk Girls” may only be four minutes long, but the second shortest clocks in at nearly six minutes and the longest at nearly ten. What’s great is Murphy’s ability to hold your attention span that long, so that this doesn’t feel like an album that spans over an hour. Opening track “Dance Yrself Clean” has at least a good couple of minutes of quiet whispering and a very faint beat before bursting into drums and a spiky synth line that comes out of nowhere to show you Murphy’s intentions on this album.
What’s interesting is Murphy’s use of old fashioned, almost casio-tone synths on this album. The opening of “You Wanted A Hit” contains a keyboard line that seems almost timeless while “I Can Change” contains the most wobbly synth you’re likely to hear this year. Strangely enough, “I Can Change” is all the more powerful for the odd fragility of this attention-grabbing keyboard line, and it carries wonderfully into the more steady, disco-friendly tone of “You Wanted A Hit”. On “Somebody’s Calling Me”, Murphy employs the most distorted synth you could think of to give a sense of imbalance and while it grates on the first listen (the line comes up a lot, and hey it’s a long song) it reveals its purpose and effect after the third spin.
It’s not all retro electro though. “All I Want” is propelled by a guitar riff that just seems to weep – in a way it’s this riff alone that gives the songs its emotionality, which is pretty impressive considering this isn’t noodling we’re talking here but full-on power-rock riff! “Drunk Girls” is very David Bowie and straddles the line between rock and electronic in a way that only LCD can: and that’s the most convincing way.
No review of an LCD album would be complete without a bow to James Murphy’s lyrics. He has established himself as one of the most clever and wry lyricists around, and this is cemented on this album. For me, “Sound of Silver”‘s best lyrical moment was on its finale, the brilliant “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”. “This Is Happening” takes all of the blissful humour and sentimentality from this moment and sprinkles it all over the place. On “Drunk Girls” Murphy exposes hypocrisy on the line “Honestly, honestly/ Unless it hurts my feelings” and gives out a great feeling of getting too old for this kind of crap. “I Can Change” is sweet but doesn’t lose its edge, with the line “Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry/ And this is coming from me” showing the double-edged sword of Murphy’s slightly off-kilter ballad. “Pow Pow” is the most word-heavy of all the songs on the album (the text in the booklet is so tiny just to make it fit on a single page) and at times it’s scathing, criticising people who think they know a lot in lines like “So shut up/ Because you don’t know shit about where we’re from that you didn’t get from TV.”
“You Wanted A Hit” has been criticised in some circles for being a bit misjudged and that it’s one of the less memorable moments from LCD, but I happen to think that it’s actually one of the best. It’s the longest song on the whole album, takes a good three minutes to get into full swing and launches into an attack on the music industry and at the same time is somewhat self-depricating. Murphy sings, “You wanted it tough/ But is it ever tough enough/ No nothing’s ever tough enough/ Until we hit the road”. Essentially it’s like laying bare the reasons for him quitting, while blaming te execs for doing this to him. But then there are moments of self-deprication that have elements of wry humour. “You wanted it smart/ But honestly I’m not smart/ No honestly we’re never smart/ We fake it! Fake it all the time” Such humility on Murhpy’s part must be commended. Throw into the mix the wild distortion of Murphy’s voice on the last word on every first line of each verse and you’ve got a huge kick in the teeth for the music execs.
So this has been a looong review. But come on, I had to do LCD justice! They’re a band that have never reached the highest of the highs but are, despite what Murphy says, extremely clever, attention-grabbing, influential, and never boring. If you haven’t given them a whirl yet then you could do a heck of a lot worse than picking up “This Is Happening” ASAP. Seriously, do it NOW!