To listen to LCD Soundsystem’s fourth album, released after a seven-year hiatus, is to be transported back to the exact time you last heard something new from them. In 2010, the U.S. was a different place, more idealistic and utopian than we ever could have known or appreciated at the time. One of the tragedies of the era, however, was that James Murphy decided to disband his beloved LCD at their peak so as not to risk becoming, well, tired–like, say, The Killers or Coldplay (both of which really should have put their own moratorium on themselves after album two). Sure, there are some topical moments on American Dream, but all of them are subtle. They don’t hit you over the head with the overtness of, erm, Katy Perry’s “purposeful pop” song, “Chained to the Rhythm.” Not that these two entities are really comparable, but it just goes to show that in the era of “T,” musicians feel inclined to be a lot more literal–only adding to the dumbed down nature of pop culture as it is.
Re-enter LCD Soundsystem to bring back the concept of being “open to interpretation” in the fledgling music landscape (Jay-Z and Beyonce writing response albums about their infidelity-laden marriage should tell you the overall state of things/what’s out there). Starting with the playfully mournful “Oh Baby,” LCD establishes that their artistry has, if not at least maintained, only improved with a hiatus. With shades of a slowed down “Dance Yrself Clean” meets Public Image Ltd’s “Rise,” Murphy rues, “My love life stumbles on/Oh baby/Lean into me/There’s always a side door/Into the dark.” Except rather than this lyric being representative of the Tinder age, in which relationships are more disposable than bodega toilet paper, it’s merely a continuation of the self-deprecation Murphy has always been known for (e.g. “And love is a curse/Shoved in a hearse/Love is an open book to a verse/Of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me”).
Murphy was thirty-five when the band’s self-titled debut came out in 2005–and this after the slow crawl to recognition with “Losing My Edge,” a sleeper hit on the UK charts in 2002. So no, LCD Soundsystem has never exactly been on anyone else’s conventional timeline other than their own. They were already touting that we were “North American Scum” back in ’07, when everyone had already started to get over their issues with Dubya.
Accordingly, their examination of the present is decidedly abstract. Filled with all the frenetic funkiness of “Watch the Tapes,” “Other Voices” is memorable for being the song most blatantly aware of time, or rather, how insignificant it is–as in, “Time isn’t over, times aren’t better/So it’s letting you down/You keep dragging back to it/You keep going back to the well/Oh that shit’s a dictator/Time won’t be messed with.” That the only mention of a “dictator” on the album is time should indicate just how much more enduring the music of LCD will be in opting not to mention the politics of the moment. Seeming to prefer the past in every way (“Oh you’d write on your hand to remember/If someone, if someone would just, pass you a pen”), yet also all too cognizant of it being filled with its own set of problems (Nancy Whang chimes in, “This is what’s happening and it’s freaking you out/I’ve heard it, heard it/And it sounds like the nineties/Who can you trust?”), Murphy’s take on the present seems to be: it’s just as shitty as before.
The faint rumination on the notion of past is present in the title of “I Used To.” As Murphy reflects on the things he used to do in younger days–like dancing alone of his own volition–this feeling of being caught in a particular era in one’s mind and wanting desperately to break out into the now is most apparent in Murphy’s insistence, “I’m still trying to wake up.”
The levity picks up with “Change Yr Mind”–at least sonically. Lyrically, the song explores the theme Murphy began at the outset with “Losing My Edge,” seemingly in constant fear that he’s too old to be seen in public, let alone on a stage. Ruminating on the decision to put the kibosh on the band, he bemoans, “I’ve just got nothing left to say/I’m in no place to get it right/And I’m not dangerous now/The way I used to be once/I’m just too old for it now.” And yet, here he is, more full of salient statements than ever. Thus to his fans and himself, he says, “You can change your mind.” Now if only the same could be said of the electoral college’s vote.
A nine minute, twelve second opus of electro post-punk at its finest, “How Do You Sleep?,” is moody, frantic and maybe vaguely better than the song of the same name that John Lennon released directed at Paul McCartney. Traces of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” come to mind at the outset of the song, quickly devolving into a redundant backbeat that goes hand in hand with the repetition of “there’s more for you.” But is there really in 2017? Detailing Murphy’s unresolved emotional issues with DFA Records co-founder, Tim Goldsworthy, the accusatory rehashing puts anything Morrissey said to Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis in “Frankly Mr. Shankly” to shame.
Almost as though a slight nod to their “final” show in April of 2011 at Madison Square Garden (the one sentimentally documented in Shut Up and Play the Hits) with the chorus, “there’s only tonight tonight tonight,” “Tonite” speaks to Murphy’s general contempt for the landscape of “what’s left of the airwaves,” hence his desire to serve as the Batman of music and come rescue listeners with any discernment from the dismal options. As the second single, the accompanying music video features Murphy walking in circles on a stage singing into his recorder with matter-of-factness. At the end of the Zane Lowe-directed piece, Murphy shouts from off camera, “It’s gonna have to be good enough, I can’t do this anymore. My brain won’t work.” This is both yet another mockery of his age and yet also an undercutting jibe at the musicians of the moment, all content to put out mediocre products while singing of the exact same generic emotions.
The first single, “Call the Police,” is LCD at its most New Order-y on the album–still leaving room for Murphy to self-reference DFA with, “We don’t waste time with love/It’s all death from above.” And that death from above, these days, is so often delivered by those meant to protect us–making “Call the Police” a prime example of the band’s timeliness without being too on the mark about a specific event (like Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial). By the song’s end, foreshadowings of “eat[ing] the rich” nearly make Charles Manson’s vision of “Helter Skelter” seem tame.
Released at the same time as “Call the Police,” the melancholy tone of “American Dream” is James Murphy at his most Brooklyn (which is saying a lot since he owns a wine bar in Williamsburg) in that he discusses, in depth, the hollowness of a one-night stand. Particularly when you’ve crossed into a certain age bracket. You “wake up with somebody near you and at someone else’s place,” hating yourself and the way you look in the mirror as you presumably use the finger method of toothbrushing. Promising yourself you won’t do it again, you always do. And this can really take a toll on a sensitive person–Murphy among the classification as he wails, “So you kiss and you clutch but you can’t fight that feeling/That your one true love is just awaiting your big meeting/So you never even asked for names/You just look right through them as if you already came.”
The winking “Emotional Haircut” alludes to Murphy’s behavior post-fame, amending his fears of “step[ping] outside.” Now that he has “eyes going every which way” to protect himself from an emotional raping, he’s gotten smarter–and perhaps a bit number. Even so, “It ain’t a disease/It’s just harder to do whatever you please.” And it’s only going to be all the more so as LCD Soundsystem re-ingratiates itself back into the public eye.
A show of respect to David Bowie, “Black Screen” is named such in honor of Murphy being approached by the Thin White Duke to produce what would be his final record, Blackstar. Murphy didn’t end up obliging the request, but this elegy surely helps to make up for it. Offering deference for the celestial motifs that made up so much of Bowie’s career, Murphy remarks, “Been watching images/From the station/Earth one from satellites/All streaming/Feels slow at seventeen thousand miles an hour/You could be anywhere/On the black screen.” The threnody not only pays tribute to Bowie, but also allows Murphy the luxury of meditating on both his favorite and least favorite subjects: aging and death. In this regard, a time and place can’t exist in the band’s work as it’s addressed with too much of a philosophical slant as opposed to a current events one.
Murphy once insisted, “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent/It’s the furthest you can get from the government.” That was a long time ago now, and even ol’ NYC has fallen to the dark pall of a U.S. far more sanitized than it used to be (maybe so sanitized that ethnic cleansing isn’t far behind). So those fans resentful of the “lie”–the push and pull of emotions that come with being told one’s favorite band is breaking up for good only to have them come back together again (à la Blur or The Smashing Pumpkins)–can forgive LCD Soundsystem their erraticness (and the much maligned album cover for American Dream). Because we definitely need them more than ever–they who can make music outside the bounds of zeitgeists. And there’s certainly no question that their reunion is far better than when Billy Corgan tries to get the band back together.