This review is going to contain a vast amount of foul language. I mean LOT. If this is something that might bother you... well fuck, maybe now would be a good time to stop reading! Out of all the musical acts who enjoy overwhelmingly and seemingly unconditionally positive critical acclaim and hype, there is a certain subset of which that seem to receive this on account of mere chance. How does a group of critics suddenly decide that say, the Arctic Monkeys, for example, are the next big thing? A run-of-the-mill indie rock band tossing off boring ass attempts at dance and garage rock? What the fuck is so interesting about it, other than how unusually watered down the songs are? The answer, naturally, is sweet jack shit. Now is James Murphy's dance project, LCD Soundsystem, as glaring a nude emperor as the aforementioned? Not quite, no. He has been known to come up with pretty catchy melodies, and on occasion has even crafted songs that border on brilliant. I've always found his music relatively enjoyable, but nothing really special, and certainly nothing worthy of the breathless Pitchfork reviews that require a wiping clean of the ejaculate in order to see the 9.2 ratings more clearly. So when I heard Murphy declare that his third (and apparently final) album, This Is Happening, would be "definitely better than the other two," I was fairly excited, hoping that maybe this time around I would be able to see just what all the fuss is about.
The conclusion? As far as I can tell, This Is Happening has three things going for it-
1) Dance Yrself Clean, despite losing its momentum toward the end on account of running a few minutes too long, is a great opener.
2) There is a fair amount of diversity to the tracks.
3) On occasion, Murphy nails the layering of sounds quite well.
As far as I can tell, it also has three key problems-
1) The album is incredibly self-indulgent.
2) There is a recurring theme of repeating ideas he's already done better.
3) It's complete BULLSHIT.
We're all familiar with great albums that have been hyped way too much, and thus their impact is lessened considerably. This Is Happening is a mediocre album to begin with, but is has more than just bounds of hype to ruin it - in fact, it successfully highlights a number of irritating things that I despise most about hipster-centric albums. So instead of laying into this album with a traditional review, I am going to use it as a way to demonstrate and explain many of the shitty things these kinds of records frequently pull.
I'm Self Deprecating, So I Must Be Clever
What is it about being an ironic smart ass that makes people think they're suddenly hot shit? I couldn't hazard a guess as to how many times I've been to a show like this, drinking and dancing with my friends, and looking over to see people just standing there, arms folded across their chest. Why? Isn't the point of going to a concert to have fun? APPARENTLY NOT, the point is so that you can silently observe, and take in how interesting it all is. These are the kinds of people who respond to Murphy's "You wanted the time, but maybe I can't do the time, oh we both know that's an awful line," with a snarky nod, as if to express that they get what he's really saying. Or how about that other gem, "Love is an open book, to a verse of your bad poetry, and this is coming from me." Get it? Because I am infamous for my shitty lyrics! So calling attention to it is clever, right? Well, not really, no.. it just makes them even more obnoxious. Funnily enough, the album's lyrical whipping post has been lead single Drunk Girls, which is baffling - is "Drunk girls wait an hour to pee" a very bright line? No, but neither is "The jocks can't get in the door, when Daft Punk is playing at my house" or "Oh I don't know, I don't know, oh where to begin, when we're North American." It's dance music, for fuck's sake! Since when did it hinge on the bad lyrics, particularly when they have become a trademark for an artist? Dumb lyrics will always have a place in dance music; lyrics that are overly pleased with themselves will not.
My Influences Are Good, So I Must Be Good Too
A bit of fetishism for 70s and 80s music isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but when you're lifting a style (or worse yet, actual melodies) from your source of inspiration and adding nothing of an individual mark to it, what's the point? Such is the case with All I Want, which basically takes David Bowie's slightly altered Heroes, warm 70s guitars, and a wild synth thrown in near the end. So really, what makes this his own, other than the moping he does throughout the six minutes? Then there's the erratic Pow Pow, taking a David Byrne stream-of-consciousness style delivery, and talking utter nonsense. When you hear songs like these, your first impulse shouldn't be to turn it off and just go listen to the fucking bands that inspired them instead! And furthermore, both of these songs are prime examples of recycled LCD Soundsystem ideas - All I Want is trying to go for the mournful atmosphere that Murphy nailed on Someone Great, but fails, mainly because Someone wasn't a contrived piece of shit. Pow Pow is trying to showcase just how eccentric Murphy apparently would like to appear, which was fine on tracks like Losing My Edge, where the evolving music took the forefront, but here the music is buried behind Murphy! And what for? Did he think his random shit musings were that interesting? Who the fuck knows.
My Songs Are Long, So They Must Be Well Thought Out
I will be the first to admit that Murphy has some great ideas here. For example, One Touch is extremely dark and brooding, with a throbbing, palpably sexual beat and a relatively interesting (though a bit drawn out) deconstruction at the end. That's a great foundation, but then there are five minutes in between where virtually nothing happens. The beat is repeated underneath a tedious verse, to a chorus differentiated from said verse by ONE new element, then a needless breakdown separating it from ANOTHER tedious verse. I Can Change starts out with great aquatic symths over a solid beat, and his vocals are surprisingly compelling. But does the song go anywhere? Does it fuck. There are two parts to the song that are repeated throughout its six minutes, and while being one of the shorter tracks, its lack of ideas prevents it from feeling as such. The fact that the earlier noted Pow Pow is over eight fucking minutes long is a testament to just how self-indulgent This Is Happening really is. If your music repeats itself constantly, or worse yet just runs free with no rhyme or reason to anything at all for absurd periods of time, well done. You have sucked your own cock on record, and people have paid to listen to it. Fuck you.
This Album Is Shit
This is the most important point of all. The only really good thing I can say about This Is Happening, Dance Yrself Clean withstanding, is that it's made me appreciate his first two albums more. He had a much better grasp on how long his hooks could last before getting old, and he felt a lot more genuine, randomly talking about subjects from heartache to partying. Despite the vast amount of filler that plague each Sound of Silver and his self titled debut, they can provide fun listens; like I said, nothing special, but perfectly respectable music. Here, Murphy overuses his ideas and more often than not comes across as far too pleased with himself, ultimately squandering his best qualities, and making an album of songs that call to mind the filler tracks that dragged down his earlier work. Beyond This Is Happening's few positive traits, tedious song lengths, old ideas, and an obnoxious persona make whatever the hell is happening sound pretty shitty.