Album Review: LCD Soundsystem – ‘This Is Happening’ (DFA/EMI)

He’s set the bar high, but if this is to be James Murphy’s swansong, it’s a brave and powerful way to bow out

[a]LCD Soundsystem[/a] kicked off the last decade by making the mother of all rods for their own back. The band’s 2002 debut 12-inch ‘Losing My Edge’ can now arguably be called the best single of the noughties. A chromium-plated rave/rock monster, it celebrated the final breakdown between rave, punk and indie and emergent iPod culture. With a fucking killer beat. It was a meditation on the idea that our musical heritage isn’t set in stone, but is instead a generational roundabout of constant reassessment, seen through the eyes of a narrator just waking up to this very fact. Its punchy chorus and one-note bass line (pilfered from War’s ‘Me And Baby Brother’ via Killing Joke’s ‘Change’) were party-friendly, while its primitive rave electronics and rapturous list of cool bands (“The Sonics! The Sonics! The Sonics!”) were hypnotic. Record-collecting geeks, record store clerks, music obsessives like you and me were now the heroes – our borderline autistic behaviour celebrated by this new OCD Soundsystem. Then somehow, they built from this humble beginning to record what was, to a lot of people, the album of the decade, ‘Sound Of Silver’, in 2007.

So, no pressure then. Wisely, for his third album, James Murphy has pushed the outer shell of his band’s sound briskly forward into stripped-down synth-pop, robotic electro and smooth new wave while retaining a powerful punk-funk undercarriage. ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ opens not with snarling acid-house Roland programming but fizzing and creaking Moogs and rhythms clattered out on pots and pans while Murphy does his best Kermit The Frog-impersonating-Mark E Smith voice. Then just as you’re reaching over to the stereo to turn it up, he blasts you with both barrels of his disco shotgun. There are three other dialled-up-to-11 bangers here: the Kraftwerk-meets-Telex-meets-OMD techno of ‘One Touch’; the sultry NYC ESG/Liquid Liquid jam of ‘Pow Pow’ and the Polynesian electro disco of ‘Home’. Of course it’s not all gravy; they come seriously unstuck with the obligatory Bowie/Fripp/Eno tribute ‘All I Want’ with its larcenous rip of “Heroes”’s guitars.

Murphy’s exasperation at (somehow) ending up a magazine cover star is vented in the itchy new wave number ‘You Wanted A Hit’. After a false start of Yellow Magic Orchestra synth pop, the track settles into the clipped, metronomic new wave of The Cars but with deep headphone dub effects over which he berates… well, who exactly? His audience? His critics? His record label? (Critics and audiences love him! He owns his record label!) Regardless, he shouts loudly about his inability to write a hit record. Of course, coming from the author of ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ and ‘Someone Great’, this makes him sound a bit like a mad messianic tramp on a motorway roundabout battling off unseen demons with an empty sherry bottle. Because of course, there are hits here. Like ‘Drunk Girls’, for example: a demented slice of electro punk that lies somewhere between Family Fodder’s forgotten post-punk classic ‘Dinosaur Sex’ and The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’.

Much has been made of the fact that this may be LCD’s last album and while we want them to stay, it’s easy to understand Murphy’s desire to step out of the limelight. He is one of the least likely frontmen of recent years, but then, this is also one of his key strengths. If ‘This Is Happening’ must be a parting shot from this smartest and most human of dance machines, it’s a fine one. Though by LCD’s own standards this takes second place to ‘Sound Of Silver’’s unquestionable gold medal, by any other current band’s measure this is an all-out classic.

John Doran

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