Album Review: LCD Soundsystem’s ‘American Dream’

LCD Soundsystem
“American Dream”

When LCD Soundsystem announced its reunion in January of last year, less than five years after its much-ballyhooed split, the blogosphere reacted as if the band had faked its own death. After all, the group had played a series of farewell shows (amid much public introspection from mainman James Murphy) culminating with a long career-spanning set at Madison Square Garden that was subsequently recycled as a live album and video. Yet the tears had barely dried before here they were again, with a “Back From the Dead” tour, playing basically the same “farewell” set at multiple lucrative festival dates (and with a new major-label deal) after putting in just a fraction of the requisite mourning period.

Murphy — who’d worked with Arcade Fire, David Bowie, launched a coffee brand and, er, opened a Williamsburg wine bar in the intervening years — responded in a characteristically defiant yet self-flagellating manner, saying first that it would be silly to release new songs made with his former LCD bandmates under any other name, then doubled down on an almost Trumpian scale by telling Vulture and The New York Times essentially that Bowie had said it was okay to reform the group, and that the Madison Square Garden show’s promoter ““didn’t think we were going to sell well” — so he made it the band’s last show to make a point.

The twist in all of this is that none of those dense clouds of hot Internet air matter at all: “American Dream” is actually pretty great, a long and luxuriant expansion on the group’s signature, ‘80s-revering dance-rock with gobs of great rhythms and insidious, deceptively simple-sounding hooks.

As usual, “group” is a misnomer here: LCD is essentially Murphy writing, singing, playing and producing, with significant contributions from longstanding bandmembers sprinkled throughout. He’s no virtuoso at any instrument and the songs continually test the range of his talk-sung vocals (actually, most songs test his singing range), but he’s an ace producer with a veteran DJ’s ear for dynamics and flow. There are a few slow songs among the 10 tracks — the opening “Oh Baby” is a jokey love song with a ping-ponging melodic rhythm and celestial synths; the title track is a slowly pulsating late-night lament — but much of the album powers along like a cross-country runner’s mixtape, hewing to a dance-rock style that’s simultaneously contemporary and endowed with a world-class record geek’s acknowledged homage to decades of history, particularly the early ‘80s. There are bald-faced tributes to his favorite influences, particularly “Remain in Light”-era Talking Heads (both “Other Voices” and “Change Your Mind” feature elephant-trumpet guitars and thumping bass), Public Image Ltd. (“How Do You Sleep”) and even, in the album’s opening moments, himself — “Oh Baby” features the unmistakable and doubtlessly intentional “bomp-bomp” bass synth from one of the group’s most beloved songs, 2007’s “Someone Great.”

The lyrics are, as always, wiseass and sporadically hilarious: “You took acid and looked in the mirror/ And watched the beard crawl around on your face” (from the title track); “You’re too shocked from being used by these bullying children of the fabulous raffling off limited-edition shoes” (from “Tonite”).

Murphy insists “American Dream” the beginning of a whole new era from the band, but frankly it’s a continuation (with the substantial benefit of a major-label recording budget). In fact, despite all the verbiage from him and countless others over the past half-decade, someone who hasn’t been paying attention could be forgiven for thinking it just took them a long time to finish the follow-up to 2010’s “This Is Happening” and the drama of the past five-plus years hadn’t happened at all.

Album Review: LCD Soundsystem's 'American Dream'

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