LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening | CD review


The sleeve notes to Big Black's astonishing 1987 album Songs About Fucking may be among the most entertaining in rock history. Amid frontman Steve Albini's descriptions of his songs' charming subject matter – including the Colombian necktie, "a particularly humiliating way to die that involves having your throat slit from ear-to-ear so your tongue can flop out your neck" – there lurks a piece of wisdom. "Hey," wrote Albini, explaining his decision to call time on the band just as it appeared to be at the height of its powers, "breaking up is an idea that occurred to far too few groups."

You could spend hours listing artists whose reputation would have been burnished had they made the tough decision to pack it in at the top of their game. There was a time, however, you might have got long odds on that being a decision LCD Soundsystem would ever have to consider making, given that longevity never seemed likely in the first place. "It wasn't ever supposed to be a professional band," frontman James Murphy recently protested, and certainly the single that crashlanded them into the public consciousness suggested as much. For all its brilliant skewering both of the hipster scene that Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy's production team DFA were at the centre of, and of the fears that plague the ageing music fan, Losing My Edge felt not unlike the kind of witty novelty you used to find propping up John Peel's Festive 50: whatever their qualities, the Period Pains' Spice Girls (Who Do You Think You Are?), or Serious Drinking's Love on the Terraces weren't the stuff on which lengthy careers were based. Even Murphy's record contract somehow smacked of pranksterism. He managed to broker a deal whereby in order to release LCD Soundsystem records, EMI was also required to put out wildly uncommercial albums by Black Dice, Prinzhorn Dance School, and Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom. "Riding the wave of meta-consciousness, outlining patterns that only make sense when you look at them a millions miles away," enthused Pitchfork of the latter's The Days of Mars, which somehow suggested they were unlikely to plug the sales gap left by the departure from EMI of Radiohead, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

But as it turned out, LCD Soundsystem had infinitely more to offer than snarky gags. Their second album, 2007's Sound of Silver, served notice that Murphy was not merely the owner of great record collection and a scabrous wit, but a songwriter of real emotional heft, not least on All My Friends' remarkable meditation on hedonism and ageing. Nevertheless, its successor's opening track Dance Yrself Clean confirms that Murphy has decided to take Steve Albini's advice, and that this will be his last record with LCD Soundsystem. "Everybody's getting younger," he sings mournfully, returning to his central lyrical theme: a 40-year-old man trying to puzzle out his place in the youth-fuelled world of dancefloors and glitterballs.

Anyone looking for clues as to why Murphy is calling time might alight on You Wanted a Hit, which spends nine minutes complaining about record labels giving him, as they used to say in 80s US teen flicks, the red ass. But, frankly, that seems a bit rich coming from the bloke who conned EMI into releasing Prinzhorn Dance School's Hamworthy Sports and Leisure Centre, but there you go. What you won't find is any sense that Murphy is running low on musical or lyrical inspiration. You could argue that This Is Happening lacks its predecessor's startling sense of mapping out new territories, but if it confines itself to doing what LCD Soundsystem do, it does it all incredibly well. At one end of the emotional spectrum there's the shouty indie-disco flavours of Drunk Girls and Pow Pow, the latter of which sets a stream of consciousness rant against a backdrop of twitchy guitars and flanged hi-hats. At the other there's All I Want's bruising confection of guitars and doo-wopping backing vocals that recall Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets and what sounds like Murphy bitterly picking over a failed relationship, and there is I Can Change, on which the perky early 80s dance-pop setting conceals a mounting sense of hopelessness and desperation. "I can change," he keeps repeating, "if it will help you fall in love with me."

It ends with Home, its burbling synthesisers and clattering percussion simultaneously euphoric and subdued, with Murphy, as ever, plagued by doubts on the dancefloor, unable to decide whether music "can shut the door on terrible times" or only mask them partially: "Love and rock are fickle things … under lights we're all unsure." But he signs off with an unexpectedly positive flourish: "If you're afraid of what you need, it won't get any better." For once, he sounds like a man facing the future confidently. Given the records LCD Soundsystem leave behind, you can't really blame him.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
CD: LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver


Dorian Lynskey

09, Mar, 2007 @11:49 PM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening | CD review
James Murphy bows out on a high with the third LCD Soundsystem album, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

15, May, 2010 @11:08 PM

Article image
CD: LCD Soundsystem, 45:33


John Burgess

16, Nov, 2007 @12:05 AM

Article image
CD: LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem


Maddy Costa

07, Jan, 2005 @1:21 AM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem | Pop review

Brixton Academy, London
Having vowed to disband LCD Soundsystem when he turned 40, James Murphy is presumably on his final tour with his dance-punk-funk group, writes Caroline Sullivan

Caroline Sullivan

25, Apr, 2010 @9:35 PM

Article image
My favourite album: LCD Soundsystem by LCD Soundsystem

Continuing our new series in which Guardian and Observer writers pick their favourite albums ever – with a view that you might do the same – Paul MacInnes explains why James Murphy's masterpiece makes him go 'absolutely bananas'

Paul MacInnes

04, Aug, 2011 @12:17 PM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem announce final concert
James Murphy to retire dance-punk band with farewell show at New York's Madison Square Garden in April

Sean Michaels

07, Feb, 2011 @10:02 AM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem review – euphoric dancefloor pop reignited
Six years after a farewell tour, frontman James Murphy gets back under the glitterball to revive his special brand of thunderous, emotional dance music

Jude Rogers

17, Sep, 2017 @2:59 PM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem: London Sessions – review
LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy is in his element on this live session album, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

16, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem – 10 of the best
James Murphy’s pioneering dance-punk project began with him singing about midlife crises. Yet they were always ready to fill the dancefloor, too

David Pollock

11, May, 2016 @9:47 AM