Under Review: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

I’m willing to bet that, as a frequent consumer of all the media these internets have to offer, you already know all about the new album from LCD Soundsystem.  I’ll run it for you quick so we can get inside one of the year’s finest albums even sooner.  Supposedly, James Murphy is retiring the LCD moniker with This Is Happening, his third with the project.  Coming a few years after the landmark Sound Of Silver, This Is Happening had some big electronic boots to fill.  Silver impeccably captured the voice of today’s music-loving generation.  It was a smart and cynical look at the world around us and how emotions are being replaced with status updates and how it all just boils down to us v. them, over and over again.  Though Happening features a lot of the same tricks as Silver, the album possesses its own unique character.  Opening song “Dance Yrself Clean” finds Murphy coming to the realization that all the friends he was so desperately searching for in 2007 have turned out to be jerks.  Happening is a tricky and subversive album, and Murphy places that right up front, as “Dance Yrself Clean” waits a full three minutes before an overdriven synth bleats through the quietly galloping track.  Surprises like that keep the songs on Happening (which average around 7 minutes in length) continually arresting.  Next is “Drunk Girls,” which seems to be the album’s requisite knuckleheaded party jam.  Murphy has had a number of those on each of his albums, usually releasing them as the lead singles.  Such was the case with “Drunk Girls,” though the blatant aping of “White Light/White Heat” and “Boys Keep Swinging” made early speculators wonder if Murphy had finally, ahem, lost his edge.  The song’s definitely grown on me since I first heard it, but it still stands out as one of Happening’s valleys.

Despite the rather daunting song lengths, This Is Happening seems to breeze by.  The guitar-driven “All I Want” and the new wave ping-pong of “I Can Change” add sounds that are familiar yet eye-opening.  A lot of those sounds are lifted from Bowie and Eno’s collaborations in Berlin, but the result (on songs other than “Drunk Girls”) is more informed than indebted.  Another hallmark of LCD Soundsystem albums is the extended spoken word rant with occasional musical interjections.  Happening’s comes in the form of “Pow Pow,” a rave-up that condenses all of Murphy’s greatest skills into one eight-minute parcel.  Name-checks of journalists and media icons, self-conscious reflections and a jittery beat (with backing vocals from DFA darling Nancy Whang), it’s all in “Pow Pow,” and it just never gets old.  Sure, with songs as long as the ones on Happening, there are bound to be a few lags, and the plodding “Somebody’s Calling Me” is the longest drag on the record.  The knowing taunt “You Wanted A Hit” is the kind of song that Murphy says he won’t deliver, and closing number “Home” is the wide-eyed come down that throbs like the beat that continues in your head long after leaving the club.  As one of today’s premier groups, LCD Soundsystem would set a very noble example in stepping down at their peak.  It would still be a real shame if James Murphy bowed out after this album, because This Is Happening shows that the guy has plenty more to say.  But, again, you probably knew all that.

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~ by E. on May 21, 2010.

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