This Is Happening
I’m not calling James Murphy fat, but the guy has his own gravitational field. This pull, of course, has made him the most important taste-maker in hipster circles for almost a decade—since “Losing My Edge” made him the coolest guy in Brooklyn by insisting at length how uncool he is. That’s why you will never outwit Murphy. His is a Warhol-type cool, surrounding himself with a carnival-esque legion of followers who handle all the heavy posing while the ringmaster also plays the befuddled jester. You don’t take him seriously until it’s too late, the song is over, and you notice you’re either a) drenched in sweat on the dance floor, b) left pondering the very existence of your record collection, or c) experience a Fruedian-strength mid-life crisis for daring to be awake past midnight at your age.
I can’t fathom what LCD Soundsystem must be like for the 20-year-old fan. The 40-year-old Murphy is a late bloomer who gives us faith that failed rock star dreams are never completely dashed while seeming to operate at a critical level more advanced than any critic. And those who construct prose about him love him for this. Another moon in his orbit if you will. And by threatening to gracefully retire LCD after this third full-length, he’s even helping us write his own obituary. And that would be a shame, only because when it gets down to the music, there doesn’t seem to be an end to what Murphy is capable of.
This Is Happening is admittedly not the huge stride sonically that took place between the dance-rock of LCD’s first half-decade and the utterly sophisticated disco-strut of 2007′s Sound of Silver. And admittedly, the initial leaks of “Drunk Girls” and “Pow Pow” had more than a few wondering if Murphy had run out of re-invention runway. But in it’s complete scope, the album contains all the master works we’re usually too scared to expect from a full-length these days. From the synth throb of “One Touch” to the embarrassingly bare lyrics of “I Can Change” (answer: “if it will make you fall in love with me.”) and the weightless guitar of “All I Want” that stretches the taffy of Robert Fripp’s “Heroes” riff in a new direction, Murphy still punches every one of the pressure points like the mixed martial art student he’s happens to be. If Murphy is still schooling the rest of us on what it is to be cool, it’s nice to at least picture the master as the disciple in another arena.
Murphy also teaches himself some new tricks, like the vocal gymnastics he attempts—and mostly lands—on opener “Dance Yrself Clean.” It’s a long way from the sing-speak of his first record, and more proof (if you need it) that an old dog can learn some new tricks. Even if the subject matter veers dangerously close to Sound of Silver‘s mega-opus “All My Friends” there’s still room for improvement. And if you’ll allow me one more stab at psycho-analyzing poor James, beneath it all, you know he’s still insecure enough to keep becoming better—stronger, faster, cooler. And we’ll reap the benefit if he’ll let us.