“And i’m also terrified that i’ll never make anything good again.” – James Murphy, June 2 2009
If you or I release an epochal album like Sound of Silver, we’ll too understand the weight of impossible expectation. Until then, we’ll download follow-ups to decade-defining albums, anticipate some degree of anticlimax, and then reluctantly accept that one masterpiece per career is enough. When James Murphy wrote this blog/diary-entry in June, he was in the middle of recording the yet-to-be-named follow-up to Sound of Silver and seemed to be generally enjoying life: swimming, eating avocado, doing jiu jitsu, recording music. Both implied and actually stated in all of this was that 2007 was not a happy year: “making a record is strange. last time i made a record i had a pretty brutal and miserable experience. [sic].” Not really surprising. Anyone remotely familiar with Sound of Silver can detect its often nostalgic and saddened tones and memories. “this time i'm having a pretty great experience.” If depression created Sound of Silver, does happiness preclude an equally affecting follow-up?
“Walking up to me expecting words/ it happens all the time,” and I do believe him. LCD-acolytes and Murphy worshipers are dime-a-dozen, and I’m guessing the pressure on him overwhelms at times. This Is Happening seems to constantly address the idea of pressure and expectation, and routinely spits in its face. Murphy wants us to know he doesn’t give a shit what we want, but this release gives it to us anyway. This Is Happening is a classic-sounding and highly successful LCD Soundsystem album; it boasts a remarkable pastiche of old dance styles, classic new-wave, sample-based pop, club-house and machine-heavy anthems. No fan, critic or industry-personnel with a vested interest should be disappointed here.
“Dance Yrself Clean” is the launch pad and employs techniques that made “Losing My Edge” and “Daft Punk Playing At My House” the beat-heavy anthems that they are. The opening three minutes consists of Murphy basically summoning the room for attention until he drops a beat so thick and commanding that I might be convinced that he’s the first person to ever use an analog synth.
Like its predecessor, This Is Happening examines both the profundity and meaninglessness of human behavior. Murphy’s voice has ascended to God-like status for many people. And no matter what he says, it comes soaked in a grandeur and profundity for the sole reason that he’s saying it. “Drunk Girls” is a total embrace of debauchery and sounds like James Murphy parodying himself; “Drunk girls wait an hour to pee,” this is either the most inane or brilliant lyric of the year. “All I Want” and “I Can Change” showcase Murphy’s sobriety and affection modes respectively. The former is a saddened self-reflection, and as close to heart-on-sleeve as you’ll likely ever hear Murphy: “Look for the girl who’s put up with all of your shit/ you’ve never needed anyone for so long.” The latter is a buoyant anthem and might be the album’s most accessible track.
The album’s second half is considerably denser and slower with each song clocking over seven minutes. Though no less interesting, “You Wanted A Hit”, “Pow Pow”, and “Somebody’s Calling Me” require greater patience for the reward. The former wades in a three-minute intro until Murphy injects his thesis – “you wanted a hit / but maybe we don’t do hits” – an appropriate line for a nine-minute slow jam. The latter is a coffee-house groove that trudges along until the album’s momentous closer “Home”: a perfectly-condensed eight-minute synopsis of every bar, club and party you’ve ever been to.
Murphy’s persona shines through each track but refuses to commit or be tied down. When he sings about hedonism, he’s not patronizing. When he’s longing, he’s not heart-broken. When he’s profound, he’s just observing. He can do it like few others. Loath as I am to get sentimental in an album review, I’ll really fucking miss this band if this is in fact their last album and tour. “Love and rock are fickle things,” he reminds me on “Home”; touché Murphy, touché.