Review Summary: James Murphy tops himself. Attempting greatness, he overshoots, and lands on a stone-cold classic.
By god he’s done it. James Murphy, the creative force behind LCD Soundsystem, has managed to top himself. 2007’s Sound of Silver was one of the great records of the last decade, but This Is Happening is even better. It doesn’t stray far from its predecessor’s format of sprawling tracks, punctuated by incessant hooks and beats, shrouded in yearning, leavened with wit and humor, and unified into a whole that defies the pick-and-choose of the playlist. It's an album that demands a beginning to end listen. The lack of departure might disappoint a few; This Is Happening is a sequel if there ever was one. Still, it’s beyond churlish to complain about music this marvelous.
This Is Happening begins with the jaw-dropping “Dance Yrself Clean,” a track that starts spare: Murphy’s vocal, some drumstick patter, a bass pulse on the first beat of every measure, a hand clap on beats two and four. This hushed intro continues for three minutes before exploding into a full-blown yowling electronic romp. As far as first tracks go, you can’t ask for a more thrilling kick-off, and it establishes the mode taken throughout the album. All the songs sound like Murphy has consolidated and amplified his trademarks. “Pow Pow” mixes the spoken lyric of “Losing My Edge” with the playful pugnacity of “North American Scum.” (“Oh eat it, Michael Musto” is the gayest insult I’ve heard on a record. That’s a compliment.) “Drunk Girls” is “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” with an IQ of 75, a rave-up with exuberance to spare. Notably, it’s the only track that clocks in at fewer than five minutes (which probably explains why it was chosen as a single).
Like Sound of Silver, whose “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” formed the heart of the record, This Is Happening has two incredible tracks at its center: “All I Want,” with its triumphant guitar hook (lovingly stolen from Bowie's "Heroes") and soaring climax that belies its lyric (“All I want is your pity”), and “I Can Change,” a song New Order would’ve gladly included on a greatest hits record.
Stepping back and looking at an artist’s career trajectory can produce the same sense of admiration as listening to his output. James Murphy has transformed himself from a precocious wunderkind to an out-and-out auteur. Yet he remains just as self-effacing, shlubby, approachable, and lovable as ever. Murphy claims This Is Happening will be the final LCD Soundsystem release. Part of me hopes he keeps to his promise. No matter what Murphy’s next project is – acid polka anyone? – LCD Soundsystem remains the best example of the intersection of the dance music and singer-songwriter genres.
On This Is Happening, James Murphy aims for greatness, from the album’s instantly iconic cover, to the anthemic catharsis of its melodies, to the poignancy and charm of its lyrics. Remarkably, Murphy overshoots his goal and delivers a stone-cold classic.