Saturday 22 October 2016

Murphy's law: NYC electro gods LCD Soundsystem return

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem

We live in an age where people just love to be offended. It's especially apparent on Twitter where the slightest thing is enough to set off the fury. And it happened yet again when one of the finest bands of this century so far had the temerity to announce that they were reforming.

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Rather than celebrate the return of LCD Soundsystem, supposed fans were lining up to talk about how betrayed they felt that the New Yorkers were getting back together having made it very clear five years ago that they were dissolving for good.

James Murphy, founder, songwriter, vocalist and focal point of the group, had once said that he couldn't imagine himself being in the LCD fold after the age of 40, and then he started talking about the band's final show as its funeral. That spectacular, three-hour, home-town farewell in a buzzing Madison Square Garden seemed to confirm that Murphy was anxious to go out on a high, a sentiment amplified by Shut Up And Play the Hits, the compelling feature length documentary about the end of LCD Soundsystem that emerged a year later.

But in the intervening half-decade, he's clearly had second thoughts and for those of us who are signed up members of the fanclub, that's very good news indeed. It's not as if the band - whose floating cast of members includes Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney - disintegrated in a welter of recrimination. Their return - starting with a headline appearance at Coachella in April - is no 'Hell Freezes Over'. And while they will be handsomely remunerated for playing the pre-eminent American rock festival, one senses Murphy is just itching to go back on the road.

A new album is in the offing too - and it has a lot to live up to considering the quality of its three predecessors, especially second album Sound of Silver, from 2007, which felt like a classic on early listens and hasn't diminished in quality one iota since.

I've yet to recommend to friends a pair of songs from that album - 'All My Friends' and 'Someone Great' - and not seen them fall headlong in love with Murphy and his band. The former was named second best song released in the 2000s by Pitchfork and if someone was to put a gun to my head and name the greatest tune of that decade, I'd plump for the latter. Yep, they're that good and the marvellous thing is how special so many of the album's other tracks are too.

On the face of it, both LCD Soundsystem and the Death from Above (DFA) label co-founded by Murphy tick every hipster box, but strip away that cool, knowing facade and you're left with a bunch of musicians who make music that plumbs deep into the soul of modern life. Murphy is a songwriter who's not afraid to open up vulnerabilities that resonate deeply in the listener: 'Someone Great' will tug hard on the heartstrings of anyone who has lost a parent, perhaps, and felt there was much left unsaid, while 'Drunk Girls', from the most recent album, This Is Happening, appears to turn the notion of a one-night stand on its head when Murphy sings of an old fashioned desire: "I believe in waking up together."

The giddy beat of 'Drunk Girls' was intentionally similar to 'Boys Keep Swinging', the 1979 song from the late David Bowie (how painful it is to use that prefix before the name). The entire album was a veritable homage to Bowie: the glorious 'All I Want' had a guitar line that was redolent of the one Robert Fripp employed on "Heroes". Even the album cover, featuring a sprawled out Murphy, was intended to remind us of the artwork of Lodger, the third part of the so-called Berlin Trilogy.

Sometimes, albums that are so utterly in thrall to another artist can suffer, but not this one: Murphy used the Bowie framework to create an album that appealed to both the head and the feet. It's the sort of sophisticated dance-rock music that makes the fare delivered by such EDM heavy-hitters as Avicii feel terribly vacuous by comparison.

Murphy's gifts were apparent long before LCD Soundsystem's self-titled debut, but this double album truly heralded the arrival of a crossover maven to appeal to both guitar lovers and those who prefer turntables. The album's emblematic single 'Losing My Edge' skewered those who define themselves by how cool their tastes are as Murphy recited many of the defining moments in music history. It sounded quite sensational when the This is Happening tour called to Dublin's now defunct Tripod venue in November 2010.

Rarely have I seen a crowd quite as enraptured as that night. From the moment the band came on stage to the strains of 10cc's 'I'm Not in Love' to its triumphant end 100 minutes later, the adrenaline barely let up. Nobody seemed interested in the bar.

Shut Up and Play the Hits gives a sense of how special that 'farewell' show in NYC was, but to truly capture the majesty of their performance that evening, make time for the 28-track, three-hour live recording, The Long Goodbye. Quite why anyone would wish the band stayed dormant on the strength of this alone is beyond me.

Murphy has kept himself busy with a curious hotchpotch of projects since 2011. He composed the scores of both Greenberg and While We're Young - the acclaimed films from indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach - and he was involved on production for Arcade Fire and Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums.

He has no problem with commercial tie-ups either, having been commissioned for the likes of IBM and Converse. (A decade ago, he teamed up with Nike for a composition, 45.33, designed to be listened to while running.)

December 24 saw the release of the first LCD Soundsystem song in five years, the desperately sad 'Christmas Will Break Your Heart'. It was a low-key return, but 2016 is a better place now that Murphy and his band of brothers - and sister - are back.

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