Review Summary: Good night, sweet prince.
The weirdest thing about James Murphy's wild ascent over the course of this past decade is how out of place he appears. Here's a pudgy, bearded forty-something writing songs about how hard it is to be cool, and somehow he manages to personify everything that exists
about "cool", for better or for worse. Hipsters, yuppies, and a bunch of other horribly-named demographics all found something to love in LCD Soundsystem, an act that was as much about its fans as it was about the face fronting (and backing) it. The songs prove as much: "Losing My Edge" was more scathing an attack of overzealous Brooklynites than every anonymous Brooklyn Vegan comment combined, yet its whirlwind second half was also a winking acknowledgement of them. But for all of its unassuming fashionability, LCD Soundsystem was always at its best when it completely bypassed the possibility of backlash - when they shot straight for the heart. And their second proper LP, Sound of Silver
, did just that.
Sound of Silver
feels like the type of record you treasure forever, timeless while recalling a very specific place and era. The aughts didn't really lack bands that sounded definitively New York, but LCD Soundsystem somehow recalled the city in a way that the similarly geographically-minded records released by the Strokes, Metro Area, or the Rapture ever did. Not, like, Wall Street
New York or anything like that, but the romantic notion of a New York slacker, that wacky archetype of a person stuck in existential, self-aware purgatory, a person who's privileged, knows it, and hates it, a person who really fits the Los Angeles stereotype better than the overachieving New York one but doesn't feel like the LA "scene" works for them, a person who is, uh, "away in the half-life" and "crushed by the boring". Sound of Silver
was held together by this character, who was just distant enough for listeners to feel some sort of cool mystique but relatable enough for them to feel some sort of genuine human connection. Which makes the success of a song like "Someone Great" all the more understandable; the subject matter is intimate but universal, the closest Murphy gets to really letting his guard down. And it's no surprise that the most affecting lyrics are those that abandon the self-referential shtick Murphy so adores: "The worst is all the lovely weather / I'm stunned it's not raining / The coffee isn't even bitter / Because, what's the difference"" Surprise, surprise: Mr. Murphy has a heart! And it doesn't permanently remain on the dance floor.
But even when Murphy did shift his lyrical focus to the club, there was always palpable feeling
there, even if it was hidden behind layer upon layer of aloofness. "All My Friends" is a track that needs absolutely no introduction aside from the one Murphy provides: "That's how it starts / we go back to your house." One of those seminal records that doesn't define
a generation so much as understand
it, "All My Friends" is downright perfect, alternately sad, funny, somewhere in between, and always brutally honest. The breathless, final stanza is, for lack of a more balanced word, astounding: "And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand / you can sleep on the plane or review what you said / when you're drunk and the kids leave impossible tasks / you think over and over, 'hey, I'm finally dead!'" Few other songs tapped into the pains of simply being human as well as this one did. It didn't matter if you were young or old, rich or poor. "All My Friends" is, as befits its title, an all-inclusive song, which is at first ironic given the song's plaints about alienation. But "All My Friends" is about loneliness, not apathy. "To tell the truth / this could be the last time" is as pleading and urgent a line as any, an outpouring of emotion that's impossible to turn into a meaningless meme or dismiss as mere "posturing".
Sure, you could say that "North American Scum" is less about actual North Americans and more about a guy who thought it would be funny to write a song about North Americans, but that would unfairly trivialize the song's humor. And hey, anybody who's tried living anywhere aside from the Bronx, Queens, and (ugh) Weehawken can relate to Murphy's cry of, "New York's the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent / wahoo! North America!" In fact, fuck that; everybody
can relate to a line like that. Because we're only human, and we've all felt like James Murphy at some point, even if we don't want to admit it. Or hey, if that's a bit too far-reaching a statement, at the very least, we've all at least felt some self-loathing before. So the bleak wail of "cloud, block out the sun / over me, over me" is not only tolerable, but really fucking effective. Ditto for the repeated sentiment of "us and them / over and over again" and "to think I used to pity you!" - interminable upon first listen, irresistible upon the second, third, and so on. It isn't "deep", certainly not when taken at face value, but there it is again: the importance of the audience. Sound of Silver
was one of the few records of the last decade to really explode outside of its small niche (only Funeral
really comes close), and it wouldn't have done so if there wasn't something underneath the surface that people could really get
on an instinctive level, that they could add to the songs that would make the music really come to life. This, of course, risks discounting the fact that Sound of Silver
sounds absolutely pristine, but, I mean, that much was expected
. Murphy's production throughout is polished, but lightly grimed in a superficially "punky" manner. It's a joy to listen to, sure, but it isn't the key to this album's remarkable lasting power. If LCD Soundsystem
has a few more bangers and This Is Happening
is just straight-up prettier
a record, Sound of Silver
was that crucial moment when James Murphy stopped just being a smartass and really forced the public to pay attention.
Now, four years later, Murphy and Co. have played their final show to a sold-out crowd in Madison Square Garden, and have taken their final bows. Sure, in ten years, LCD Soundsystem may come out with a new record, and we'll look back on this "finale show" laughing at our gullibility. But when Murphy's voice cracked at the beginning of the show's closing song, when we the audience got a brief glimpse of this purported epitome of cool crying
onstage, there was a real air of finality. "You're still the one pool where I'd happily drown," Murphy wistfully sang. Thousands of fans standing in the stadium and watching the show's live stream felt the same exact way, at that same exact moment. "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down" was the perfect sendoff for this band that never should have become the center of the indie sphere but, against all odds, did; it's no surprise, then, that it's also the best ending that an album as perfect as Sound of Silver
could ever ask for. In those last, heartbreaking, final minutes, we are all chubby forty-somethings, belting, whispering, and weeping into a microphone, saying our heartfelt goodbyes.