American Dream is arguably James Murphy’s best album yet. It had to be: complete, expansive and from the heart.
After touring for This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem had the blow-out show to end all blow-outs in 2011 by selling out the grand Madison Square Garden (in 15 seconds!). They released 2 stellar alums prior to This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver), each building on an already fanatic fan base. Each album is extremely re-playable and each soundied better than the last. When word that the band was splitting and there would be one final show, the who’s who of Manhattan and fans from around the world, piled into The Garden to shake the roof apart and say goodbye to a group that was just hitting their best. Smog machines, strobe lights, a fantastically large mirror ball and a charismatic ring-leader standing in the middle of it all: wearing a black suit, white button up shirt and a skinny black tie: sums up the New York City “cool” for the 2010’s. Not the obscure hipsters crammed into the smelly dungeons of Williamsburg Brooklyn to see a band you (certainly) haven’t heard of yet. No. LCD Soundsystem crafted a vibe and sound to lure those glass-eyed young professionals and the die-hard 40 somethings into a dance factory frenzy.
The previous release This is Happening (2010) was a smash hit on several levels. James Murphy was able to craft a post-punk / art-rock album reminiscent of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, or something from the vast Brian Eno vault. LCD Soundsystem gained more notoriety from press and musical icons (From Lou Reed to Gorillaz), sold out all their venues (stadiums) and became an icon for the young affluent who just couldn’t relate to the lo-fi rock scene. This Is Happening gained universal acclaim, sold 31,000 albums within the first week of hitting the shelves, and was included on almost every Top 10 list of 2010. TIH is engineered in such a way that, to this day, I have to turn the volume up with each listen. I still haven’t reached a point of it playing too loud. This album can blast, never reaching a level of unintended distortion.
What a great time to end a band right?!
I can only imagine the motivation and reason for pulling the plug on a band that is just destroying every show they play, and who had sold millions of records within their 10 years of existence. But James and Co. did just that and said “goodbye and thanks” by throwing a goodbye party to end all goodbyes. It was a massive champagne-soaked celebrity nightclub dance party with heavy upbeat rhythms, warm gooey bass, and lighting fit for a fashion show.
Jump forward 6 years, and a cautiously-optimistic buzz started floating around the web mid-2016. The quiet buzz was that LCD Soundsystem was recording again. Amidst their new tour, they canceled the Asian leg. In August 2016, LCD Soundsystem, officially turned the volume up on the chatter. It was official, they had started working on their upcoming album American Dream. Almost exactly one year later (September 2017), they release American Dream and James Murphy promised fans and press to never make a show of LCD’s retirement ever again.
While some would view this album as a fresh beginning, the content steers the story to endings. Endings of relationships. Endings of love, of heroes, of icons, of the American dream itself. The songs carry some tick-tick tempos which keep my head rocking from side to side, and percussion, synths and guitars can be found on almost every song. But, the album doesn’t play on a surface level. It’s a deep release in terms of content, and yet is able to keep the pace of a fun night out.
The final track “black screen” starts with bass, snares and that famous 505, repeating and slightly escalating to a point where James Murphy’s voice breaks the tension and directs the song to what many consider a belated message for the late/great/mentor David Bowie. David Bowie befriended and collaborated with James in the years past. Some rumors even mention that David Bowie requested the band to re-unite. Can’t say “No” to David Bowie. Murphy was reportedly asked to co-produce the final Bowie album Blackstar, but choose not to.
After many listens to black screen some reasons were uncovered. “I had fear in the room,” Murphy whispers, “so I stopped turning up.” It’s hard for anyone to see a role model hurting and weak. There is a part of me that understands this decision: these aren’t superficial albums. American Dream deals with a lot of the melancholia of growing older and reflecting on all of yesterday’s parties. I can relate.
Lyrically, the songs of American Dream are sorrowful, vulnerable, and regretful. The songs are presented by a guy in a fitted black suit and white shirt, not wearing shoes. And at first pass they sound like great dance music. Modern day disco, super catchy and clean. But lyrically, the content is as heavy as a bag of bricks.
By the time American Dream finishes, I am left wanting more, thoroughly entertained, but sad for no particular reason. A fitting soundtrack for 2017.
Album: American Dream
Release: Columbia Records, September, 2017