You really only wish you were as cool as James Murphy. And he’d probably really like to know that.
James Murphy, exuberant and screaming frontman of disco punk staple band LCD Soundsystem, is possibly the only human living today who reinvented cool by trying to fit into being what everyone else thought was cool. Eight years after he confessed to losing his edge to the kids from France and from London, it’s obvious that he may never actually lose his edge, because every time he starts to lose it, he just reinvents that edge from scratch, and then he’s on top again. It happened again in 2007 with the release of Sound Of Silver, in which he learns to stop worrying and let his mid-life crisis flow on “All My Friends,” and lets us know that it will always be Us v. Them. When I saw the band live recently, the guy next to me at the show told me he read someone convey the sentiment that “James Murphy is making his mid-life crisis danceable.” Well, they’re right.
This Is Happening, LCD’s third full-length outing, begins delicately with “Dance Yrself Clean.” Murphy sings about his present company in the distance of the song, telling us that you’re a jerk and proof that friends are mean. But then, the song tears your face off, and he’s screaming. Again. Just as he was always meant to be. During the song, there’s a fever break, in which you can audibly hear him sigh, twice. Why did he sigh? Because he’s simply making it all look too easy.
On This Is Happening, James Murphy loses the philosophy of “Us and them, over and over again,” and focuses a little more on intimacy. The album’s first single, the terribly misunderstood “Drunk Girls,” is a chant-ready ode to the differences in people, in which he professes, “I believe in waking up together, I believe in waking up with no promises.”
The best example of his attempt at discussing the differences in two people comes in the form of “All I Want,” arguably the best track on the record. Amidst the sliding guitars and infectious drum beat, Murphy sings with the earnest love that made “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” flawless: “And all I want is your pity / Oh all I want are your bitter tears.” It’s about intimacy and closeness, and as the years of making bitter pop songs has caught up with our paunchy hero, it’s stopped being about the crowd, but the two people in the center of it.
Somehow, throughout, Murphy manages to deliver some of his more powerful lines to date, such as the truths that bookend the second half of the album, in which he tells us that “Love is a murdered” on “I Can Change,” and that “You’re afraid of what you need” in the strangely-hopeful closer “Home.” But it also finds him at his most crass; just after the crushing blow in “I Can Chance,” he gets self-deprecating: “Love is a curse shoved in a hearse / Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry — And this is coming from me”
Take note, though, he’s still one of the more clever writers around right now. Here, he demonstrates his knack for the bizarre on the rambling stream-of-consciousness flow of “Pow Pow,” where he tells us about how the king wears a king hat and lives in a king house, according to Fact Magazine, after telling us that maybe we don’t do hits and it always feels wrong on the hardly-a-song “You Wanted A Hit.” The grooves are here, too, especially in the case of “One Touch,” which will have you shaking your booty all work day long, guaranteed.
James Murphy is 40 this year, so he’s definitely old enough, and successful enough, to simply quit the game entirely and relax from his position. But for now, there may not be anyone better at introducing new ways to allow people to hear what’s going on in your head. There are advantages to both.