Album Review: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

[DFA / Parlophone; 2010]

The blueprint for everything James Murphy is trying to do on LCD Soundsystem’s third album, This is Happening, is laid out in the opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean.” Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, the song begins as an understated groove before exploding with labyrinthine neo-disco synths. Murphy, as usual, sounds caught halfway between sincerity and stereotypical ironic “indie” detachment as he speak-sings about how sometimes people who are your friends can be jerks too. The reason Murphy generally makes the best dance music in the world today is because he straddles this line more expertly than just about anyone else on the planet—LCD Soundsystem can be enjoyed equally by fans of Pavement and house-concert stalwarts (at least according to Murphy) Daft Punk. “Dance Yrself Clean” is a little bit long and a little bit repetitive, but it’s so much fun that you don’t really care.

And that’s pretty much how it goes on the mostly excellent This is Happening. Of the nine songs, only the slightly-annoying-but-infectious lead single “Drunk Girls” comes in below the five-minute mark. Most of the songs could be cut by a couple of minutes, but they are carried by killer hooks and clever turns of phrase. Murphy has become an expert at building a song from a bare bones beginning, adding layer upon layer to it until it becomes something entirely different. He has also entered the rare zone for a songwriter where, no matter how obvious his influences are (“All I Want” is basically David Bowie’s “’Heroes’” with new lyrics), they never feel derivative.

There are plenty of grooves on This is Happening, obviously, but it somehow feels like less of a club record than the two previous LCD records. Many of these songs use “North American Scum,” from 2007’s Sound of Silver, as a jumping-off point and pair danceable rock riffs with shouted lyrical refrains. Murphy is endearingly self-referential throughout the album—in the Zooropa-channeling “You Wanted a Hit,” he follows up “You wanted the time/well maybe we don’t do time” with “Yeah, we both know that’s an awful line/but that doesn’t make it wrong,” which pretty much sums up his intentions. As sharp as some of his wordplay is, and as telling as the second chorus in “I Can Change,” where the song’s refrain morphs from “Never change/ this is why I fell in love” to “I can change/if it helps you fall in love,” is, the musical buildups are the real draw here.

Murphy has hinted that this will be the last LCD Soundsystem record, at least for a while. This is probably a good thing. While This is Happening isn’t as wall-to-wall brilliant as Sound of Silver, if it is indeed his last record with this project, he’s leaving his legacy in just as good of shape as Jay-Z left his with The Black Album before his (unfortunately temporary) retirement. It’s too bad that we won’t have a new LCD record to look forward to every three years, but it’s pretty hard to fault Murphy for quitting while he’s unquestionably ahead.