RATE THIS IS HAPPENING:
After seeing James Murphy in concert back in 2007, I was blown away by LCD Soundsystem’s ability to infuse emotion into the beats of an album meant for the dance floor. The one-man studio band's sophomore album, Sound of Silver — now looked at as one of the decade’s best albums — stayed with me for a while, a nine-track masterpiece.
So Murphy already has a reputation for creating electronic music with heart and soul. After penning decade defining, introspective songs that will surely stay with us for years to come, you'd think James Murphy is done with the snarky, hipper-than-thou music geek vibe that so defined LCD's self-titled debut, right?
Not entirely. This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem’s third and potentially final album, is literally split down the middle. Not loaded from front to back with with witty, biting reality check jams that made up the self-titled LP, nor crammed with the dance-fused, 70's art-rock anthems of Silver — Happening is half and half. LCD Soundsystem's brief, but influential discography summarized neatly, in just over an hour.
Before getting too critical, let’s talk about the masterpieces. “All I Want” and “I Can Change” provide a 1-2 punch that nears the extraordinary heights of the “All My Friends” and “Someone Great” double-whammy. “All I Want” relies on a crunching guitar riff and Murphy’s strong, solemn vocals. Most important, Murphy gives the simplest lyrics the kind of depth that make his albums stand out from others: “wait…for the day,” and “look…for the girl” are delivered with pretty remarkable tenderness for a guy who can be so bitter. What seems like an overpowering guitar melody ends up being secondary to the even more powerful singing from Murphy. The closing cry of “take me home” is undeniably heart-wrenching, demonstrating LCD Soundsystem’s remarkable ability to give building songs massive payoffs.
As great as “All I Want” is, “I Can Change,” my favorite track on the album, lifts This Is Happening to another level. “Change,” gliding over a shimmering, synth-driven beat, is carried by Murphy’s smooth voice, reaching a remarkable falsetto at the song’s best moment. “The feeling goes away,” he sings, just before launching into the song’s refrain: “never change, never change, never change.” Building to a cathartic climax, “Change” showcases LCD at its absolute strongest.
This Is Happening-opener “Dance Yrself Clean” kicks off the album magnificently. Murphy is in full-on soul man mode here, wailing his lyrics like the Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett. “Home,” the album’s closing track, brims with optimism (with lyrics like “we can shut the door on terrible times”) and caps the album off right.
Then there is “Drunk Girls,” the album's predictable first single. While many LCD fans despise this song, to me it’s a reminder of the balance that makes Murphy so great. Sure, he can give the reflective, 9-minute jams, but he can also give catchy, anthemic 3-minute singles that, in a perfect world, would become dance floor necessities.
But not everything on Happening is necessary. For example, “One Touch” is “Get Innocuous” without the same growing intensity that made Sound of Silver’s opener so perfect. “Somebody’s Calling Me” takes a really cool piano riff, blends it with really cool whispered vocals from Murphy, and then blows it with an overdose of heavy synths and noises. It even works, but only for a bit. Not all 7 minutes.
“Pow Pow,” the album’s definite grower, brings Murphy back to doing his favorite thing: talk-singing and ripping on things that he doesn’t like. Murphy’s swagger and the catchy, hypnotic chorus both carry “Pow Pow” for a solid few minutes. But not for all 8 minutes.
Noticing a trend? While the excessive numbers on Sound of Silver were still gems, some of This Is Happening’s longer tracks are just too long. But now I’ve let my inner Murphy get the best of me, and I’ve ranted too long. Perhaps with Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem has set the bar too high for itself. But with the many standouts on the album and the bliss they provide on their own, it’s not too hard to think that Murphy could have topped himself once again with a little less jamming and ranting.
84 — Excellent. One of best offerings of the year, but may only appeal to fans of that genre. [Rating Scale]
To enter to win a copy of This Is Happening on CD, the limited 12" single "Pow Wow", and the limited LCD Poster, leave a comment with your thoughts on the album, rate the album and "like" PMA's Facebook Page. A winner will be picked at random on May 24th.