As the story goes, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy (lead vocalist and jack-of-all instruments for the band) had no plans to make this record. He was content to stay in retirement after the band closed the door on their legacy with a massive sold-out show in New York City. He couldn’t stop writing songs, however, and all of that creative energy had to go somewhere. It went into the band’s newest record, and one of the best records of the year, American Dream.
The themes are American Dream are familiar ones to LCDSS’s work – love, aging, trying to stay hip, partying, and emotional disconnect in the digital age. The first track, “Oh Baby,” has Murphy pleading for a lover to come back to him as synths beats bubble underneath his vocals. The wicked bass and beats on “Other Voices” underlie the scathing message directed at adults acting like spoiled children instead of sticking up for themselves and others. “Time isn’t over and times aren’t better so it’s letting you down. You keep dragging back to it, keep going back to the well,” Murphy sings before telling us that we’re still babies and pushovers. Vocalist / keyboardist Nancy Whang claims, “It sounds like the nineties.” at one point. We’re back to the emptiness that decade only twenty years later. The final verse is particularly damning: “You’re just a baby now. You should be uncomfortable. Fake like you mean it.”
“I Used To” is a classic example of Murphy realizing he’s an aged hipster and remembering when he thought he was going to change the world (which, in some ways, he has). It’s a track Gary Numan would love, as it sounds like early Tubeway Army material but with vocals more soulful than robotic. The best lyric is “Oh sure, we’re talking tough, yeah, we’re talking tuff, but on suburban lawns in prone positions.” “Change Yr Mind” has LCDSS verging into post-punk with Murphy’s chop guitar work and the snappy beat. Murphy laments his younger days of being Joe Cool with self-introspective lyrics like “I’m not dangerous now, the way I used to be once. I’m just too old for it now, at least that seems to be true.”
“How Do You Sleep?” has Murphy wondering about a former lover who warned him about cocaine even as she was diving into addiction and left him stuck hanging out with “vape clowns.” It’s almost a goth track with its deep bass and Pat Mahoney’s tribal drumming. It’s a stunning piece that I’m sure is a highlight of their current live shows.
“Tonite” is one of the wittiest songs Murphy’s ever written as he salutes and takes down modern pop music (and growing older) at the same time with wicked beats and synth work. His lyrics are brilliant and include gems like “You’re getting older – and there’s improvement unless you’re such a winner that the future’s a nightmare,” “You’ve lost your Internet, and we’ve lost our memory,” and “…embarrassing pictures have now all been deleted by versions of selves that we thought were the best ones.”
“Call the Police” was one of the first songs off the record. It’s soaring synths and Go-Go’s bass propel Murphy’s lyrics about fake rebellion and forgotten passions (“The old guys are frightened, and frightening to behold. The kids come out fighting and still do what they’re told.”).
What is the “American Dream” alluded to in the album’s title track? It’s love. In particular, love that is often right in front of us but we choose to ignore out of fear it will be painful or difficult or might lead to further responsibility. The track is vintage synths, finger snaps, and Murphy’s passionate vocals (“So you kiss and you clutch; but you can’t fight that feeling that your one true love is just awaiting your big meeting, so you never even ask for names. You just right through them as if you already came.”).
“Emotional Haircut” sounds like a forgotten Love and Rockets track with Murphy’s savage guitar work and Mahoney’s wicked drumming. Murphy sings about knee jerk reactions to tragedies and then not being able to move past them at a later date (“You got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete and you got life-affirming moment in your past that you can’t repeat.”). The album’s closer, “Black Screen,” is almost a darkwave track as Murphy remembers a lost friend or lover who might be dead or simply taking a vacation from the worldwide web. In this day and age, both are equal for many.
LCD Soundsystem wants us to remember that the American dream is achievable if we remember that it’s not about money. It’s about love, helping the little guy, acknowledging our rough past, and not repeating the same mistakes. The nation will be better off if we at least try.
Keep your mind open.
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