While reviewing the new Lorde album recently – and concurrently playing Billy Bragg’s Talking With The Taxman About Poetry - the idea of “the difficult third album” was front of mind. Is it real or a figment of some now ancient music critic’s (lack of) imagination? Where else could be examined? Let’s make a list!
Sad as this line of thinking is – I do have a life, I just choose to waste it like this – it did get me to New York’s LCD Soundsystem and their third album. So, not a complete waste of time was it?
Released in May 2010, it had something to live up to, as this review explains, but at the end of that first decade of the 21st century whatever it was, however it worked, it mattered because few acts right then were as consequential as LCD Soundsystem.
This Is Happening (DFA/EMI)
I pity the fool who has to try to follow a groundbreaking album. The kind of record which doesn't just fill up best of the year lists but becomes decade-defining and thereafter the automatic reference point for other artists and critics.
The next time around these "fools" must compete against not just their own standards but extravagant demands from fans and media for another sliver of genius, another record to love almost indiscriminately. All this while knowing that they almost certainly will not be able to match that moment and even if they do most of us will still say "yeah, it’s really good, but not as good as …" So, not much pressure then.
The last album from New Yorker James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem, 2007's Sound Of Silver, was one of those landmark records. In fact, so regularly do I still play it, so completely has it infiltrated my life and my discourse, that it seems almost impossible that it is anything near as long as three years since it arrived.
The way Murphy deftly combined electronic dance, terse rock, a New York sensibility, German drive and English heart with the ultimate music fanboy approach to its source material neatly wrapped up the decade’s movements in one package and made everyone else seem like preparatory notes.
LCD Soundsystem's third album, This Is Happening, is not going to replace or surpass Sound Of Silver. It is less a great leap and more an extension or continuation.
Murphy’s reference points are much the same as three years ago: from Eno’s layered atmospheric work with Talking Heads and David Bowie or the yowl and cheap tones of No Wave to the mix of clipped and expansive rhythms of sundry Germans of the ‘70s with the pulsing interiors of early ‘80s nightclubs.
No, it won’t be one of the records of this decade. But gee, it’s pretty bloody good. And getting better by the day. Long tracks – and everything but the riotous single Drunk Girls, which recalls 2007’s harsh gem North American Scum, clocks in past the six minute mark – can build and cruise almost hypnotically before exploding into some harsh electronic sounds and then pulling back as if to examine the bruises left.
These songs, such as All I Want, feel like they’re all skin at first but then in Murphy’s surprisingly warm voice or in the bare lyrics ("take me home, take me home" he sings over and over in the outro) you realise you’ve been feeling the heart ticking all the time.
Alternatively, as in Pow Pow, these songs might kick in firmly from the start with burbling sounds and a flint-hard beat, bringing the tempo and temperature up incrementally until you are moving involuntarily but with ease. And loving it.
This Is Happening is once again dance music with guts and heft and rock music with deeply fashioned grooves. The man is no fool.