LCD Soundsystem's American Dream: What You Need To Know
After three critically-acclaimed albums, James Murphy announced in 2010 that his band, LCD Soundsystem, were calling it a day. A handful of gigs at New York's Terminal 5 were followed by a huge farewell show at Madison Square Garden in 2011 which sold out in minutes, and that was that. Fearing that the band were becoming too big, Murphy left behind LCD Soundsystem to focus on running his label, DFA Records, and took on a host of other projects including producing Arcade Fire's 2013 album Reflektor, opening a wine bar in Williamsburg, scoring two Noah Baumbach film and launching his own brand of coffee, not to mention helping out David Bowie with his parting gift, Blackstar.
But then something changed; seven years on from what Murphy intended to be LCD Soundsystem's third and final album, this week sees the arrival of a fourth. It's called American Dream and it arrives in stores today. Here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
After making a very big deal of LCD Soundsystem's deliberate demise - not only with the Madison Square Garden show but the subsequent live album The Long Goodbye and documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits - Murphy was understandably a little sheepish about the idea of reviving the band just a few years later and, by all accounts, agonised over the decision to do so quite a bit. In the end, according to a recent interview with the New York Times, it was none other than Bowie who convinced him it was the right thing to do: “Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”, Bowie had asked Murphy about the idea of reviving the band. When he admitted that it did, Bowie replied: “Good. If you're not uncomfortable, then you're not doing anything.” It turned out to be all the validation Murphy needed.
By the end of 2015, there had been a string of rumours and subsequent denials about the band's plan to reunite and headline several 2016 festivals, followed by the release of what Murphy described as “a depressing Christmas song”, titled 'Christmas Will Break Your Heart', on December 24th that year. The following January, DFA finally confirmed that the band would be reuniting to headline Coachella in 2016, with the news of a new album arriving a day later, accompanied by a long Facebook post from Murphy apologising to any fans that felt their relationship with the band had been 'cheapened' and explaining how he had agonised over the decision to return.
Other festival slots and live shows were announced and, after cancelling some planned dates in Australia and Asia in August of least year to complete the new album, the first new songs were premiered in April this year at New York's newly-opened venue Brooklyn Steel. In June, the title and release date were announced for the new album, which brings us nicely up to date.
Who's producing it?
As per usual, Murphy himself is handling the album's production himself, with the album recorded entirely at DFA's studio in Murphy's native New York.
Any special guests?
Besides the core members and the usual rotating cast of contributors from DFA's roster, no, it's just them.
What does it sound like?
Murphy says of the new album that “It's the best I've felt about an LCD LP ever” (which he caveats by also saying that this “could spell disaster”), but on first listen his optimism is justified. The album's lead-off single 'Tonite' finds Murphy and co. in familiar sonic territory, with the track's pulsating, synth-driven rhythm accompanied by Murphy's unique brand of half-spoken, half-sung vocals. Perhaps feeling a little affected by the sheer number of deaths in the field of rock music in recent years, Murphy turns his attention to pop music's obsession with the immediate: “All the hits are saying the same thing / They're saying 'tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight' / And life is finite / But sh*t, it feels like forever.”
'Emotional Haircut' is another track from the more brash end of the LCD spectrum, all spiky guitars and proto-punk, but as always with their albums there's plenty of range on offer here. Given Murphy's proximity to David Bowie in the final weeks of his life, it's not surprising to find that his influence manifests itself in various ways throughout the remainder of American Dream; 'Call The Police' recalls some of his Berlin-era soundscapes and finds the band at their most anthemic, but its in the lyrics to the dreamy waltz of the album's title track that we discover what we suspect is a direct reference to the man himself: “He was leather and you were screaming / Swinging chains against the stage / And you couldn't know he was leaving / But now more will go with age.”
Does it deliver?
Even if you were one of those fans that Murphy was addressing when he apologised if you felt 'cheapened' - and we aren't entirely convinced that such people exist – the worst case scenario here would be that you're getting another LCD Soundsystem that you weren't expecting, and that's a bonus. But here's the thing: it's really, really good. The biggest change since This Is Happening is in Murphy's lyrical approach; the sharp wit is still very much present and correct, but on American Dream there's less distance between writer and subject, with Murphy immersing himself in everything he's saying. The result is a more sincere, more heartfelt LCD record than you'll have heard before, but if the motivation for making this record has been largely about justifying their comeback, you'd have to concede that it was well worth the effort.