LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

By , May 17 2010

Available on: EMI LP

When was it decided that LCD Soundsystem were the best thing going? Maybe I missed a meeting or something, but at some point over the past two years it seems like they’ve become the U2 for people who actually like music; the canonical Greatest Band in the World.

How did this happen? Sure, they’ve made good records, but not – whatever people like the critics at The Guardian argue – “astonishingly” good albums. Rather, the limitations of LCD Soundsystem have always seemed pretty apparent, and are, indeed, conscientiously underlined by James Murphy’s constant references to great records past. There’s a sense of effort to LCD Soundsystem – most literally in that forced falsetto that Murphy does when he feeling frisky and aiming for disco. They seem to strain to get to the same exuberance as the dance classics they love, but never quite get there; held back by ennui, over-intellectualised doubt or irony, or some combination of all three.

That in itself is no bad thing, of course. I’d argue that the record that truly is The Greatest Ever Made – Fear of Music, by Talking Heads – is so good precisely because of the tussle between extrovert funkiness and buttoned-up neuroses. But LCD’s tracks rarely have that internal wildness and tension. Instead, with them the contradictions are played out through (genuinely funny) wisecracks and starched grooves.

Usually, it’d be good practice to ignore the hype and just dive in to the record. But I’m not sure it makes sense to ignore the hype around LCD Soundsystem; from the start, this band, or project, have been about hype and cool. So, the fact that it’s become a truth almost universally acknowledged in hipster circles to proclaim the greatness of LCD Soundsystem is in a way their ultimate vindication. James Murphy is now the coolest guy in the coolest city. Thus, he’s answered the concerns so brilliantly expressed in ‘Losing My Edge’; he’s the man who regained his edge and took over the world. And once you’ve got there, what further work is there for LCD Soundsystem to do? No wonder Murphy has decided that This is Happening will be their final record.

Anyway, to the record itself. It’s pretty much as you’d expect, but that’s not a criticism. Murphy’s still got a great line in Albini-esque acerbity, accusing an acquaintance of “talking like a jerk / except you are an actual jerk” on opening track ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (is that a reference back to Sonic Youth in the spelling? He just can’t help himself can he?). There’s a beery stomper that’ll be played at student unions from now until forever; ‘Drunk Girls’, which is basically ‘North American Scum’ for 2010. There’s plenty grooves that sit somewhere between Liquid Liquid, Neu and Juan Atkins, and which sneak up on you with unexpected funkiness. And most winningly, there’s three tracks – ‘All I Want’, ‘I Can Change’ and ‘Home’, where Murphy swirls off into dreamy tenderness, showing that for all the acid quips and black humour, he’s a big softy after all.

Partly because it doesn’t break new ground for the band, This is Happening initially sounds a little drab. As with their previous records, there is a sternness and detachment in how it approaches dance rhythms. Murphy’s melodies are understated, and he’s quite happy to talk rather than sing. But give it time, and This is Happening is a record that undeniably works. LCD Soundsystem, above all, understand albums. They know how to construct and pace them, have studied the mysteries of their internal workings. As such, their final statement has a satisfying solidity and classy finish to it. While there’s few standout moments, it’s a great record to live with. They have transcended the vagaries of cool and crafted something that feels built to last.

Simon Hampson

3.5
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