Remember that engineer who left behind the prototype iPhone in the public bathroom? Maybe the act was intentional, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, the event sparked a free p.r. firestorm.
The same might be said for James Murphy, the man behind synthpop dance group LCD Soundsystem. Murphy ranted and raved last month when his latest album leaked via the Internet. Careless or otherwise, the same kind of whodunit buzz prevailed for the premature exposure of This is Happening.
Sounds like Murphy ought to call it This is Hype. Or even This is It?. Sharp production and über promotion aside, we’ve been on this LCD trip before.
The group’s 2007 Grammy-nominated Sound of Silver seemed to raid Kraftwerk’s catalog for beat research, and this latest record only confirms Murphy recruits his rhythms from Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army and Devo’s post-"Whip It" period. This is Happening, officially for sale May 18, retains the engaging edge of its predecessor, but it’s still difficult to hear where the Mothersbaugh influence ends and the Murphy creativity begins.
LCD Soundsystem sounds best in its minimal form—subtle keyboard clicks and loops are the stuff of Murphy’s simplicity on his lovely "Get Yrself Clean," the album’s spacious nine-minute opener. At first the song sounds straight out of an Atari game, which is neither a slam on Murphy nor Japanese software engineers. But by the song’s three-minute mark, the spastic synthesizer begins to stray into something of an hour-long Murphy mood swing.
Songs like "Pow Pow" fail to live up to LCD’s Remain in Light funk attempt, and "Drunk Girls" is a turnoff by the second listen. At least Murphy, a 40-year-old former drummer and kickboxer from New Jersey, knows to balance his chemicals with some well-timed self-deprecation: "Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me," he sings on "I Can Change," easily the album’s standout. The droning guitar feedback of "All I Want" creates one of Happening’s most enchanting soundscapes, and "One Touch" is one of the album’s better moments, even if it sounds shamelessly ripped from Gary Numan’s Replicas. "Home," the album’s final tune built on a David Byrne-esque vocal hook, leaves the listener almost hoping This is Happening weren’t LCD Soundsystem’s swan song. Almost.