Although their “last show ever” in February 2011 could have been the end of the road for LCD Soundsystem, it’s pretty clear the music was never going to completely die for the Brooklyn band, who were named in 2013 as one of Rolling Stone’s “New Immortals”. And with the announcement of their reunion in 2016 and headlining of Coachella that year, it was only a matter of time that a new album from James Murphy and crew would also be released.
‘American Dream’ is that album. Released yesterday (September 1), it’s to this listener’s ears, an homage to David Bowie as much as a reunion album. This isn’t a coincidence: Murphy played percussion on Bowie’s final album, ‘Blackstar’, and had been asked by Tony Visconti to co-produce, but feeling overwhelmed, he turned it down. Nonetheless Murphy spent a lot of time in Bowie’s company, and said it was he who convinced him to get the band back together, and told BBC6 Music’s Lauren Laverne,
“I spent a good amount of time with David Bowie, and I was talking about getting the band back together. He said, ‘Does it make you uncomfortable?’ I said ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Good – it should. You should be uncomfortable’ … David was always making himself uncomfortable.”
‘Oh Baby’, the opening song on ‘American Dream’, is synth-laden with maximum reverb, and is a deceptively simplistic love song telling the story of a love lost, but the sparkling synths (reminding us of Yazoo and ‘Only You’) give the song a sugar coating that hides the dark edge.
It’s not just Bowie who’s honoured in this album. A first listen easily reveals influences including Talking Heads – especially on track 2, ‘Other Voices’, written by Murphy and Nancy Whang. From the vocals and lyrics to the instrumentation itself, David Byrne has clearly been inspirational.
It’s from track 3 we start to hear Bowie’s impact. ‘I Used To’, borrows from his lyrical imagery, and pairs it with strong guitars, sweeping synths, and a pulsating heartbeat rhythm keeping it all together.
Track 4, ‘Change Yr Mind’, is possibly the most Bowie-like non-Bowie song this listener has heard, with the instrumentation sounding as if it had been lifted from Bowie’s 1980 opus, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, with nods to his 1977 release, ‘Low’. It’s albums like ‘American Dream’, and the recently released ‘Everything Now’ from Arcade Fire, which show they’re not afraid to pay tribute to their inspiration – and we hope there’ll be more of that to come.
‘How Do You Sleep?’ opens with tom toms and the faintest guitars before introducing a dreamy, far-away vocal, entirely appropriate for a song asking how someone sleeps. About halfway through the blissful etherealness is interrupted by alarm-like stabbing synths. Macabre, with talk of cocaine and vapes clowns, we have the feeling of the singer being kept awa from their friend/object of their desire by obstacles beyond their control. Are they separated by death? Or a dreamlike state? Or is it simply time, actual physical distance, or even emotional distance keeping them apart? Pitchfork suggests its a dig at Murphy’s estranged production partner from DFA, Tim Goldsworthy, so yeah – the separation is emotional distance. These two don’t want to talk.
‘Tonite’ is a treatise on the insidious creep of technology and popular culture into everyday lives, from the internet (“you’ve lost your internet and we’ve lost our memory”) to the fact that everybody’s singing the same song, and it’s mostly about death. We have the right to stand up and say NO to the pull of society – it’s a mess anyway – and although Murphy isn’t exactly a “little person” he’s as entitled to say “enough” as the rest of us. As like ‘Oh Baby’, ‘Tonite’ is a hard-hitting song disguised by a sweet, and catchy tune.
‘Call The Police’ doesn’t just pay homage to Bowie, it practically name-checks him with ‘The first sign divides us/the second is moving to Berlin” and “This is the plan/Wear your makeup like a man”. Title track, ‘American Dream’, carries on with the airy synths of ‘Oh Baby’. It’s dark and sinister: hiding pain behind a visage of “everything’s fine”. Age creeps up on us all, and yet many of us feel compelled by society to present a certain image that doesn’t necessarily suit us nor sit comfortably with us.
“But that’s okay/And that’s okay”
‘Emotional Haircut’, the penultimate song on ‘American Dream’, is post-punk and punchy and bemoans the struggle between putting the past behind in order to move forward – and yet being unable to, as there’s numbers on your phone you can’t delete (as the owner has died), as well as “lovingly dear moments in your past” (again with departed loved ones).
Final song, ‘Black Screen’, is about Bowie, there’s no two ways about it. Beyond the very obvious tribute in its title, derived from ‘Blackstar’, and pointing at Bowie’s death causing the screen to go black, it all becomes very clear in the lyrics, from the opening lines,
“You couldn’t make our wedding day/Too sick to travel” and the space analogies, “Been watching images/From the station/Earth one from satellites/All streaming” – harking back to Major Tom. Musically also, ‘Black Screen’ with its slightly discordant piano tinkling and steady rhythms takes us back to ‘Life On Mars’ while the near train sounds conjure up the ‘Low’ album. Poignant, moving, a fitting tribute to a good friend and mentor.
As a comeback album, ‘American Dream’ stands up there with the best of them, and makes us wonder why LCD Soundsystem broke up in the first place. But it doesn’t matter. They’re back now, and hopefully it means there’s more to come from Murphy and his band.