“Shut up and play the hits.” It’s more than just the title of LCD Soundsystem’s 2012 going away concert film. It’s the philosophy often lobbed at artists that bring politics in their live show or distract with Kanye West-esque rants in concert. It’s a phrase that’s rooted in entitlement, where the audience thinks that they can control the voice of the artist, where their wants take precedence over someone else’s needs.
But it’s also a statement that springs to mind whenever LCD Soundsystem’s fourth album, American Dream, finds a transportive groove that allows all the bullshit surrounding their 2011 disappearance and 2016 return to fade away. Fortunately, this happens often over the course of 10 songs. James Murphy and his band of collaborating friends have yet to make a wrong turn over the course of three previous records and American Dream doesn’t blow the perfect game, taking a low-key approach to underscore why people love LCD Soundsystem in the first place.
To say that’s a small feat is to downplay the levels of betrayal people felt by the band over the last couple years. It was enough that Murphy began the comeback with a much needed apology, using social media to both highlight the train of thought for reuniting after so recent of a breakup and lay out the levels of regret he felt. In Murphy’s view, it wasn’t so much the Internet trolls who would jump at the opportunity to hate him and his band. It was the people who truly loved LCD Soundsystem, that supported them throughout their career and traveled from far and wide to see their final performances. There was the realization that a return to touring and recording would cheapen that experience, but the error was clearly in grand sendoff, not in the reconsideration.
That’s a lot of baggage for an album to carry, and one that’s pretty unique to LCD. There aren’t many examples of bands breaking up and reuniting in a way that seems manipulative. Nine Inch Nails is one example, whose 2009 farewell shows only left the curtain down for three years, or classic rock mainstays like Kiss or The Who, who recanted farewell engagements with the simple explanation of changing their minds. But what hurt about LCD Soundsystem was that they weren’t this big arena band flirting with retirement after decades in the spotlight. They came up through an indie scene where fans felt intertwined with the band’s success, making the post-This Is Happening breakup a period that felt deeply emotional for those who were invested. At the time, it felt like LCD Soundsystem was doing it to preserve a legacy, going out with three classic albums and live shows that were the best of their career.
But when American Dream plays, none of that matters. Perhaps the best thing about the collection is how it doesn’t feel like an album meant to suit a narrative. Instead, it sounds like the result of what Murphy described in his apology: an artist who never stops creating, who likes to play music with his friends, and feels like the best thing to do with these songs is to share them. It’s not a set that covers new territory or redefines a sound. It’s James Murphy composing music that sounds very much like the LCD Soundsystem we already love. It’s the sound of sticking to your guns, and knowing the quickest way to the hearts of fans.
This means plenty of American Dream is instantly familiar. Lead single “call the police” incorporates a guitar riff borrowed directly from Modern English’s “I Melt with You”. Standout opening song “oh baby” sounds just as primed to soundtrack an ’80s movie, with Murphy emoting with credit-rolling tenderness over a melody that could have been lifted straight from a ’60s girl group. Often, though, the artist he is referencing is himself. “other voices” incorporates the shuffling, dance floor-ready bass grooves that Arcade Fire failed to master on their recent album, with LCD making it look easy while Murphy crafts “Pow Pow” Part 2 over it, right down to the vocal cadence and lyrical references.
This is all par for the course for LCD Soundsystem, who’ve cribbed from David Bowie and New Order liberally on previous albums. This has always been part of their appeal. When Murphy first introduced himself to us, he shouted “have you seen my records” before giving a laundry list of his favorites. LCD Soundsystem was formed as a music lover trying to turn an obsession into something his own. And now that his own releases have joined the canon, biting from himself seems oddly appropriate.
Whereas LCD’s previous album, This Is Happening, felt coherent as the project displayed a love of disco, American Dream feels happy sampling from many of the band’s established recording styles. “tonite” gives the audience a club anthem, where vintage synths provide a rubbery bass line and whip-snapping percussion to drive one of the group’s most propulsive numbers. “call the police” is an attempt to recreate another tried-and-true form, as Murphy slowly adds the sonic layers until the song turns from a ripple to tidal wave, capturing the orchestrated chaos of their big-band live show on record for the first time. And if you want Murphy to croon reflectively, the title track provides the best avenue to pull on heartstrings rather than move your legs.
That song, “american dream”, is a waterfall in slow motion, where lines like “You can’t fight that feeling/That your one true love is just awaiting your big meeting” recapture the everyman eloquence that made Murphy so beloved in the first place. It’s just one of many moments — see also: “call the police”, “emotional haircut”, and “how do you sleep” — where Murphy proves a master of nailing the dismount, working towards a huge climax and providing a satisfying spectacle in the process. But this also makes the album’s concluding moments feel like American Dream’s biggest risk. On the record’s longest track, the 12-minute “black screen”, Murphy lets the song drift away into the ether for several minutes. For a man who’s made a career out of accelerating uphill, Murphy also proves he can roll to a stop. It’s a moment that lacks anything to prove and concludes a record that is confident in its identity. That’s all we could ask for in a 2017 LCD Soundsystem album. For nearly 70 minutes, Murphy creates a world where all his sins can be wiped clean. In a sense, it’s a dream come true.
Essential Tracks: “oh baby”, “tonite”, and “american dream”