Despite occasional flashes of brilliance this is a patchy, derivative work.
Chris Power 2010-05-11
Every album is to an extent the product of its creators’ record collections. That’s brazenly been the case with LCD Soundsystem since their arrival in 2002 with Losing My Edge, on which James Murphy at once mocks and vaunts the faultless alternative credentials of his own. This arch narrative plays out above a punk-funk groove that spawned a genre’s worth of copyists and, with fitting irony, set LCD Soundsystem on the path to joining the pantheon the song described.
The process continued with 2005’s self-titled debut and 2007’s Sound of Silver, which deserves a slot in any serious list of the decade’s best albums. Given that trajectory, expectations were high that This Is Happening, allegedly the final LCD Soundsystem album, might represent the project’s apogee. Sadly, it doesn’t: despite occasional flashes of brilliance it’s a patchy, derivative work.
Murphy delighted in listing his inspirations and influences on the first LCD album, and elements of Bowie, Eno and Reed had clearly been folded into LCD’s own style on Sound of Silver. Here, however, the influences aren’t so much discernible as obvious to the point of distraction. All I Want is a passable power ballad containing some great waspish one-liners, but first you have to get past how much the guitar part sounds like the distinctive sustain created by Robert Fripp for Bowie’s “Heroes”. Joined by another aping the effect-slathered tones of Eno’s St Elmo’s Fire, these strong aural borrowings overpower everything else. It’s as if Murphy took those two records as a starting point for his own composition, then forgot to go anywhere.
Similar problems beset Somebody’s Calling Me, a blatant revisiting of Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing. Even LCD’s own back catalogue isn’t safe: Pow Pow updates Yeah, while One Touch pillages Too Much Love. Far worse than these instances of borderline plagiarism and autophagy, though, is You Wanted a Hit. A self-indulgent nine-minute whine about record companies and touring, the brute humourlessness of it is staggering given Murphy’s gift for smart, sly self-reflexive commentary.
The disappointment This Is Happening causes is all the sharper given the way it begins. Dance Yrself Clean opens with a naive vocal melody accompanied by 8-bit curlicues, before bursting into a gigantic breakbeat-driven block-rocker. Murphy’s lyric touches on the same territory as All My Friends, the narrator’s hedonistic impulses shaded by an awareness that he’s too old to still be feeling this way. It’s as wry and emotionally resonant as it is physically bone-shaking, and nothing else here comes close to matching it.