American Dream album review: In LCD Soundsystem's latest, tantalising glimpses of a new direction
On American Dream, the comeback album from the quintessential New York band, LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy and his regular mix of collaborators sound a lot like they did on their last album, 2010’s This Is Happening.
What that means is that the music made for dancing is still populated with wry-asides about the scene, and Murphy’s place in it. But there’s something more this time, whereas earlier, Murphy used to enjoy being the oldest in a cadre of New York bands that hit their peak in the aughts, now it seems like he’s more aware that he’s not older and wiser, but rather, just old. As a result, while previous albums had Murphy wanting to be smartest person in the room, on this record, he’s willing to settle for something less. This doesn’t make the album any worse, but frees it of the self-importance that characterised the band's earlier efforts — after all, who else could squeeze in, “I was playing Daft Punk to the rock kids”, as Murphy did on 2002’s ‘Losing my Edge’.
Back in 2011, LCD Soundsystem claimed to be disbanding, playing a series of shows in New York that led up to one final hurrah at Madison Square Garden. By 2016 though, the band, with its original line-up was touring festivals again, with the promise of a new album imminent on the horizon.
We’re two-third’s through 2017, and the album is finally here, and as always, its fair to say that the one thing that’s been preoccupying Murphy thoughts, is time — from reminiscing about moments that are long past, as on ‘Emotional Haircut’, when he sings, “And you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat”, to musing, “Life is finite/but shit/it feels like forever” on ‘tonite’, the only song to get a music video so far.
As Murphy grows olders, he’s looking back at the past, but without the self-seriousness that characterised the band’s previous three albums. Whereas 2007’s Sound of Silver standout ‘All My Friends’ was basically rumination on friendship and time; the lyrics now are more inward looking, seeking solace in wisdom and time gone by, rather than the joys of the present.
In this album, as on his previous efforts, Murphy does a majority of the heavy lifting himself, playing most of the instruments for the album (though live, he’s reassembled the same collaborators that played at Madison Square Garden, and that he’s worked with on previous albums).
Sonically, Murphy’s love of Krautrock, cowbells and synths endures, with the album serving as an aural re-immersion into the world that LCD Soundsystem created and perfected over their three album run from 2005-2010. There are tantalising glimpses of a new direction though, like on ‘How Do You Sleep?’ a song that combines Bauhaus influences with post-apocalyptic feel, that builds slowly across its almost 10 minute run time. For the most part though, for fans who are used to dancing when an LCD Soundsystem song comes on, the album won’t disappoint.
So, has anything changed since the project announced it was ending, back in 2011? What’s changed, is that Murphy has aged, both in terms of growing older, but also in terms of realising that his influences are dying. David Bowie, who Murphy credits with convincing him to get the band together, passed away last year, and there’s a regret that death brings, that no amount of posturing or self-aware asides can cover. Bowie, after all, asked Murphy to serve as producer on Blackstar, his final album, but Murphy backed out, citing a lack of confidence.
All of which comes to a head on album closer, ‘Black Screen’, when Murphy drops all pretence and seems to speak directly to Bowie, opening with, “You couldn’t make our wedding day/Too sick to travel/You fell between a friend/and a father,” before a melancholic 12 minutes that caps an album that is haunted and liberated by Murphy’s many influences.