Review Summary: Probably the best collection of tracks that LCD put to disc; but not their most cohesive album by a long stretch.
Sound of Silver is certainly a tricky one. Anyone who's followed certain end of decade music lists will see just how highly several tracks from this album get placed consistently, and so you'd be forgiven for thinking that this album could be nothing short of absolutely legendary if you went in with your expectations based on the qualities of its best tracks. So let's get the spoiler for the review out of the way right now; when it's good, it's easily a 5/5; hell, it's easily worth its high placing finish on the many end of decade lists on which it did feature so prominently. But as any prog fan will tell you, good standalone tracks does not a good album make, and that's what really holds Sound of Silver back from being a true classic; it's actually less than the sum of its parts.
Whilst that might not sound like much of an insult, hear me out. If we're talking quality tracks, Sound of Silver has got them in spades. Get Innocuous! is the opener, and displays mastermind Murphy's talents gradually, in what ends up being a tour-de-force in the art of the buildup. The track doesn't cover much musical terrain, but that's sort of the point; it sticks so rigidly to its guns, that by the end of its 7 minute running time it's got the listener completely under its hypnotic spell. It works amazingly as an opener, and when I first heard it, I was sure that this album was going to live up to the hype. But then track 2 starts. It's not that Time To Get Away is a bad song, it's just that... it completely messes up the flow of the album, seven minutes in to its running time. Whilst Get Innocuous! does have all of the hallmarks of starting an album with great flow, Time To Get Away does away with the rich atmosphere its predecessor has created by giving us a fun, funky song. It's actually very good for what it is, but if Sound of Silver is vying for the 'best albums' list, then it can't afford to have this kind of dichotomy between its tracks, no matter how good they are.
And a lot of the time, they're really, really ***ing food; All My Friends has been the clear 'winner' from the album, placing in a lot of critics' top ten tracks of the decade. And this is with good reason; it's the kind of track that might cause LCD fanboys to scream out 'sellout!' as soon as they hear the joyously clunky piano riff start up, but it weaves such a lyrical tale of growing old, matched with a perfectly uncertain musical backing, that it's impossible not to fall in love by the time you've hit the glorious coda. Someone Great has also done very well critically and, once again, this is completely deserved. It's gorgeously produced, with more surprisingly good lyrics from Murphy, and is quite being, quite rightfully, lauded as another of the best tracks to emerge from this decade. Even the 'hits,' such as North American Scum, are excellently executed, with Murphy's trademark humor winning the day more often than not. To be perfectly honest, Watch The Tapes is the only comparatively weak song here; everything else is pretty much golden in some way or another.
So why, then, is this 'only' getting a 4 from me? As I've said before, at risk of sounding like a 70s drug addict, it's all about flow (mannnnn). I've said it before and I'll say it again; All My Friends, Get Innocuous! and Someone Great are all astonishingly good tracks, and even Watch The Tapes has its redeeming factors. But these tracks just don't gel as they should. The closer works perfectly to finish the album, and the opener to start it, but everything in the middle just feels like some tracks put together, instead of a cohesive album. This album was LCD's equivalent of Porcupine Tree's 'In Absentia;' both of them contain what are arguably the bands' top three or four tracks that they've ever recorded, but they lack the cohesive feeling, and this prevents them from being the band's best album. For LCD, they would reach that level with last year's 'This Is Happening.' There were (arguably) no songs that reached the highs of All My Friends, or the groove of this album's title track, but the record as a whole flowed so well, with a consistent theme and atmosphere throughout, that it's far easier to stomach as a full listen than Sound of Silver is. And that really is a shame, because Sound of Silver's highs are more than enough to make me recommend the album to anybody who likes, well, music; just make sure you're not expecting a true 'album's album.'