James Murphy’s third LCD Soundsystem album has spent the first quarter of 2010 accumulating a layer of buzz thicker than the sticky beer scum that coats the dance floor at the passed-out end of a wet and raucous Friday night. It’s been the most talked about album of the year, gauging solely by a quick survey of the titanic natterers of the music blogosphere and Twitter. Now that it’s here, This Is Happening is sure to spark further debate, discussion, and dancing.
Murphy’s mindset is summed up midway through, in You Wanted A Hit. “You wanted a hit? Well, this is how we do hits,” he sings over a slinking synthesizer and slow-driving Train In Vain drums. “You wanted a hit, but that’s not what we do.” Murphy has never written with the radio in mind, and, not surprisingly, the only marketable song on the album is the single, Drunk Girls. Everything else here clocks in somewhere in the six- to nine-minute range.
Marketable or not, This Is Happening suffers no shortage of really great songs. Each track is a well-executed study in the finer points of the long form, each thumping and building, wavering and shifting in the haze of its own self-contained ecosystem. But these nine tracks also carry an earmark largely missing from dance music today (or rock ‘n’ roll, for that matter): They were very clearly designed to make up an album, rather than just a slipshod collection of singles packaged for consumption.
The album opens quietly and reservedly with Dance Yrself Clean, which builds on a two-note bass line and the constant shifting nature of “present company,” whether excluded, accepted or expected. Murphy stammers lines like, “Talking like a jerk, except you are an actual jerk,” and the song continues in its self-referential introspection until the three-minute mark, at which point a lower-register distorted synth line unexpectedly hijacks the soundfield and ups the volume. “I’m gonna play it ’til the time comes,” Murphy sings, imparting on the listener an ardent hope that the time never comes.
Drunk Girls is the simpleton here – a thoughtlessly bouncy pop song – on which Murphy examines drunk girls (who “wait an hour to pee”) and drunk boys (who are “keeping pace with the paedophiles”). This one mixes dance music with rock ‘n’ roll to the same riotous effect as the now-classic North American Scum, from their lauded last album Sound Of Silver. One Touch is all Euro-Industrialism and twisting electronics. “One touch is never enough,” Murphy sings. “People who need people to the back of the bus.”
All I Want offers a shift in the album’s tone with its distorted electric guitars and squalling feedback. It’s a look at one side of the dance-rock dichotomy, and it butts up nicely against its neighbouring track, I Can Change, which mopes about amicably – as if through a delightfully sedated haze – with She’s Blinded Me With Science synth warbling. On the art-rock masterpiece, Pow Pow, Murphy talk-mumbles mutually advantageous dichotomies: “Now, I am all tongue-tied, and you are all cross-eyed. There’s advantages to each.”
Somebody’s Calling Me is nearly jazzy in its looseness. Murphy channels Transformer era Lou Reed here, mumbling a progression from missed phone calls to bleary text messages. In the closer, Home, he sings among bleeping woodblocks and brassy synths: “So this is what you waited for? Well, under lights we’re all unsure.” But, musically, he’s never sounded surer.
This Is Happening can’t be confined to a series of ones and zeroes on your computer. Run down to your local record store on 17 May and buy – yes, buy – a copy for your collection. As with his last two LCD Soundsystem albums, James Murphy’s latest deserves to be played loud, debated, danced to uncontrollably, and committed to muscle memory.