This is Happening - DFA/Virgin
FILTER Grade: 87%
By Patrick James on June 4, 2010
We routinely ascribe too much importance to grand entrances and far too little to graceful exits. We regularly celebrate artistic arrivals as second comings, with wide eyes and dizzying chatter, only to see our heroes pass their peaks, churn out successively less relevant afterthoughts, and convalesce before our very ears. Indeed, it’s a rare occurrence when a great one knows it’s time to call it quits.
When James Murphy told BBC Radio 1 that the insanely anticipated third LCD Soundsystem full-length, This is Happening, would be the dance-rock troupe’s final effort, he made it clear he had no intention of wearing out his welcome. Granted, he’s always been cognizant of his place in the music world. When LCD first registered, Murphy was already into his 30s and fretting over his lost edge, name-checking his way into our hearts with equal parts hyper-self-awareness and appreciation for musical pedigree. Deft enough to avoid seeming a practitioner of pastiche, he reinvented dance rock. By 2007’s Sound of Silver, he sang with devastating candor about the bleakness of growing old and lonely in a world that celebrates youth, blurring the distinction between party anthems and swirling epics of self-examination between angular guitars and omnipresent cowbell.
That the first single from This is Happening—a title whose heft only grows with the knowledge of the band’s impending farewell—finds Murphy rehashing his Mark E. Smith-style spoken wordplay over a bouncy hook, and on a song called “Drunk Girls” nonetheless, is admittedly underwhelming. But beneath its silly witticisms—”drunk boys: we walk like pedestrians” chief among them—is a meditation on late nights and lonely hearts, one that climaxes as Murphy croons, “Oh, oh, oh, I believe in waking up, together” with such passion that you have to wonder if he’s been waking up alone.
“Dance Yrself Clean” opens the album with an understated bass and percussion section, over which Murphy muses about expectations. For three minutes the tension mounts and Murphy demurs, until the whole song erupts with the most drastic mid-song transformation in LCD’s catalog. The beautifully dejected “All I Want” unleashes a spiraling guitar riff reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” under which Murphy begs for “your pity,” “your tears” and, ultimately, to be taken home—though his cries go nearly unheard beneath the squelching guitars. It’s only fitting that he follows the track with “Change,” on which his voice takes the main stage. Never has he sung more compellingly than when he reaches into the height of his register with the words, “hoping and hoping the feeling goes away,” before diving into the ballad’s classically brilliant chorus, which ponders the possibility of change—if that change could make one fall in love. Back to back, the two songs are just as affecting as “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.”
On “One Touch,” “Pow Pow,” and “You Wanted a Hit,” we see Murphy in familiar territory, cracking wise and crafting near perfect rhythm sections before diving into the dangerous ground of “Somebody’s Calling Me.” The album closes with the indelible “Home,” which revisits a vocal line from “Dance Yrself Clean” and plays like a long goodbye to a loved one that grows into an Indian summer, where days and weeks pass without a glance at the calendar. But like all good things—especially good byes—it comes to an end. And with that, Mr. Murphy goes out on top. PATRICK JAMES