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LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

With improved vocals and more personal lyrics, the group's final album leaves listeners wanting another.

They say all political careers end in failure or disgrace. The same can be said of almost any high-profile job. Fortunately, recording artists can be an exception. With life spans that are neatly broken up into the years surrounding each major release, it should be easy to pick a good time to call it a day. But too few artists actually do.

As if following on from 2007's Sound of Silver wasn't going to be difficult enough for LCD Soundsystem (the record made many critics' Best of the Decade lists), the main man James Murphy managed to push expectations to extreme limits by stating that this album would be their swansong. Add that to the already heavy mythology surrounding the New York musician (the boss of DFA Records and a former writer for the television show Seinfeld), who at 40 years old is somehow capable of crafting dance floor-baiting numbers better than anyone currently alive in their twenties.

So how has Murphy responded to the colossal sense of expectation surrounding the electro-punk-techno-funk group's third and final album? By delivering more of the same. While many artists are vilified for choosing repetition over reinvention, criticising LCD Soundsystem for such a thing would be absurd. There's nothing wrong with more of the same, when that "same" sounds so unique. The nine-minute opener Dance Yrself Clean sets up the album slowly with a meandering rhythm and understated vocals from Murphy, but at the three minute mark it blasts out a buzzing synth and a string of jubilant verses. It's obvious from the outset that while Murphy's musical formula hasn't changed much, his confidence as a singer has increased dramatically.

After the raucous punk-infused Drunk Girls (which brings to mind the last album's lead single North American Scum) comes the zombie funk of One Touch. Beginning with a synth that sounds like a time machine touching down in a dystopian future, Murphy commands the microphone like the leader of a popular uprising. All I Want kicks off with a guitar refrain reminiscent of David Bowie's Heroes, and by the time the rest of the song arrives the net result is largely the same: elation. Further evidence of Murphy's much-improved vocal ability comes on this track as well as the grandiose I Can Change.

There's also a sense that Murphy's previously slightly knowing lyrical references (Daft Punk Is Playing at My House) are long gone, a change that began on the second LP, Sound of Silver. The song Home is perhaps the best example of the more personal approach to songwriting that the frontman has adopted. It's an odd experience noticing the subtle signs of progression on This Is Happening, and then realising that they represent not an ongoing evolution, but the conclusion of an argument. Things like Murphy's vocals or the album's greater focus on observational songwriting rather than fist-shaking dance numbers make you excited about the follow-up record that's never going to materialise. While this sad reality is inescapable, the sense that LCD Soundsystem have gone out on a high almost makes up for it.

Published: May 19, 2010 04:00 AM


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