Music, Radio, Reviews
Review: LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
As James Murphy wrapped up LCD Soundsystem he told the listener on Home to “look around you, you’re surrounded; it won’t get any better.” This is Happening, what was supposed to be their final album, ended with an acknowledgement that every moment has a peak and that should be celebrated, rather than chased.
Whether that’s a party or your band – eventually everything has to end. Ultimately, that’s why in 2011 Murphy decided that LCD Soundsystem should bow out on top after three critically-lauded albums, rather than outstay their welcome.
But sometimes the decisions you make can’t last forever. As Murphy wrote on Facebook when he announced the reunion; you talk to your family again despite vowing not to do so, or remarry your ex if you fall back in love or, sometimes, you bring back your band after retiring – as embarrassing as that may be after you made a movie about how you were definitely not going to come back.
The circumstances that led to this fourth album aren’t referenced explicitly, but American Dream is a reflection how his life has changed in the last five years. While ageing is barely a new topic for an LCD Soundsystem album to explore, this is far and away the most vulnerable Murphy has ever sounded on a record. On the opener Oh Baby, LCD Soundsystem’s first real attempt at a love song, he sings “I’m on my knees, I promise I’m clean,” as the vocals disappear behind an influx of synthesisers he continues, “you’re already gone… my love life stumbles on.”
That emotion continues into How Do You Sleep? a mammoth track that sees Murphy brooding over little more than just a single electronic drum and a minimal keyboard line, before it suddenly transforms into a fully-fledged dance track. The song is addressed towards the DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy who has been in a bitter dispute with Murphy since suddenly leaving New York in 2010. While Murphy floats the idea of their friendship returning to normal, he almost laughs and acknowledges he’s “erasing my chances just by asking ‘how do you sleep?’”
Similarly skeletal is the closing track Black Screen, a song written following the death of David Bowie. In the song, Murphy recalls revisiting email threads in the wake of Bowie’s death, and describes the musician as falling “between a friend and a father.” He also confesses some regrets at not contributing more during those Blackstar recording sessions and, for a man who once proclaimed that he had “never been wrong” on Losing My Edge, it’s refreshing to see such earnest sentiments seep through – rather than hide behind – his worn, ironic persona.
That’s not to say it’s all change for LCD Soundsystem. Change Yr Mind is positively Talking Heads and Tonite signals that for all the differences throughout American Dream, at its core is still the same, unmistakable voice of “a hobbled veteran of the disk-shop inquisition.” There may not be any party-friendly singles in the same vein as Drunk Girls or North American Scum on here, but Call the Police and Emotional Haircut are amongst the most abrasive tracks from the project since the self-titled debut. There’s a compromise between both styles on the incredible title track, with distorted synths blended with a slower delivery, as the vocals constantly climb until the track culminates with Murphy crooning “the body wants what it’s terrible at taking”. It doesn’t quite match the catharsis of All My Friends, but it’s the most theatrical that Murphy has ever been as a frontman.
Where American Dream falls within LCD Soundsystem’s discography will be perpetually up for debate – it is their least danceable album but it’s possibly more consistent than anything that has come before it.
For the most part this is a natural progression from the post-punk and krautrock influence that dominated This is Happening, but American Dream also benefits from this newfound openness and vulnerability.
Murphy and co. have managed to produce something that is just as dense, compelling and complicated as LCD Soundsystem’s earlier work, but this time it’s also full of heart. American Dream isn’t quite the reinvention of LCD Soundsystem that was promised, but admist all the controversy, it is a glorious vindication of the man at the centre of it.