- On "Oh Baby," the opener from the fourth studio album by LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy picks up where he left off six years ago. The track blends elements of rock and electronic music, and elements of the past and the present. It's a six-minute song with a skeletal beginning, confessional lyrics and a soaring crescendo. The nine tracks that follow, roughly speaking, explore the formulas found on past LCD Soundsystem records. In some respects, on American Dream, nothing has changed. But this, of course, is only part of the story.
In 2011, LCD Soundsystem finished for good. They played an extravagant farewell show at New York's Madison Square Garden, made a documentary and released a final live album. "A lot of the songs I've written are as good as I'm going to do," Murphy told Clash. "I don't want to repeat myself. So, what becomes the next goal? Being bigger?" Eventually, though, something changed. In a long Facebook post early last year, Murphy explained why, after spending the last half-decade following his creative impulses towards coffee shops and subway turnstiles, he was getting the band back together. He'd written songs that he liked. He felt it made no sense to start a new project to release them, and the group's other members—Pat Mahoney, Nancy Whang and Al Doyle—were willing to give a reunion a shot. All understandable, perhaps, but this didn't prevent a fierce backlash from some fans, who felt betrayed by the group's highly publicised death and resurrection. "I'm seriously sorry," Murphy said in the post. "The only thing we can do now is get back into the studio and finish this record, and make it as fucking good as we can possibly make it. It needs to be better than anything we've done before."
Every LCD Soundsystem album has featured variations on similar lyrical and musical themes, but on American Dream there are two tweaks that make a significant impact. This isn't an overtly political record, as the title implies, but there's a newfound sincerity here that reflects both the current despair of liberal America and the presumably torturous decision behind reuniting the band. This is perhaps most obvious in what's not on the album. Where LCD Soundsystem, Sound Of Silver and This Is Happening each had songs that would sound good at college parties ("Daft Punk Is Playing At My House," "North American Scum" and "Drunk Girls," respectively), there's no equivalent here. In the scheme of the lean albums Murphy likes to write, this makes a big difference. American Dream also feels lighter on irony. Rightly or wrongly, Murphy became a figurehead for Generation Y hipsterism, and his previous albums had a sense of cool detachment that became a signature. Just before the LCD reunion, Murphy worked on Blackstar, the final David Bowie album—it's difficult to imagine him coming away from that experience and wanting to write a track like "Drunk Girls."
These omissions make American Dream the most cohesive LCD record so far. It moves through some of the band's archetypes—the peppy dance-punk number, the synth-led banger, the warped ballad—with ten intuitive steps. The opening run of tracks is particularly strong. On "Oh Baby," Murphy's laments ("I'm on my knees") have never sounded so earnest, his synths never so rich. "Other Voices" offsets its mid-tempo bump with paranoia, as Nancy Whang sings, "Who can you trust? And who are your friends?" The third track, "I Used To," revisits themes of passing time and irrelevancy, both Murphy favourites, but the delivery is almost the antithesis of a track like "Losing My Edge."
There's a lack of obvious anthems on American Dream, which, depending on your expectations, might either be a let-down or a welcome change of pace. None of the singles so far—"Tonite," "Call The Police" and "American Dream"—have the festival singalong credentials of "Someone Great" or "All My Friends," but each plays its part in the album's makeup. "Tonite" isn't the finest dance floor cut the band has ever written, but its tone and timing, after the record's most dramatic moment, is crucial. "How Do You Sleep?," a nine-minute track that would make U2 sound slight, is a masterclass in arrangement. "Standing on the shore facing east!" Murphy wails. Strings and atmospherics gradually swell around him, before a monstrous kick and synth combo is unleashed.
American Dream closes on a similarly epic, if more downbeat note. "Been saving email trails, kept together," Murphy sings on "Black Screen," his voice distressed by effects. "I read them back sometimes, to remember." The album's final five minutes are purely instrumental, just a simple piano figure and a bass pulse, but they could be the saddest moments in the group's catalogue. "We're all going to die someday, so you change your mind," Murphy wrote to a commenter in the Facebook post. "You get remarried to your ex if you fall back in love. You speak to your parents after vowing to never do so again." But on American Dream, Murphy stuck to his word. LCD Soundsystem have made a better album than they've ever done.
01. Oh Baby
02. Other Voices
03. I Used To
04. Change Yr Mind
05. How Do You Sleep?
07. Call The Police
08. American Dream
09. Emotional Haircut
10. Black Screen