I write this, appropriately, still basking in the afterglow of a very special meal at Brawn on Columbia Road—special because it was playing host to The Four Horsemen, the Brooklyn wine bar-cum-restaurant co-owned by James Murphy, a.k.a. LCD Soundsystem. The meal had twists and turns and surprises aplenty, the greatest of them all arguably being that the night before, Murphy’s band had made their debut on Saturday Night Live, playing two new songs.
Just let that sink in. Saturday night, James Murphy’s band-gang gives a television airing to their first new music for six years (an anti-Christmas single excepted). Sunday afternoon, an ocean away, his food-gang cooks up a storm at his favourite London restaurant (sans the man himself). That’s twenty-four hours in the life of a Renaissance Man.
And what about that new music?
“Call The Police” is a pacy affair, guitars duelling over a motorik beat that emerges from a dreamy, heavenward intro. The song shoots for the bleachers: one-third U2 (did you ever think we’d be comparing Murphy’s more nasal register to Bono?); one-third Springsteen (the chords in the verse demand comparison to “Dancing In The Dark”); one-third Arcade Fire-style world conquering. “Call The Police” picks up where John Cale’s cover of “All My Friends” left off, yet somehow winds up breathing down the neck of stadium rock headliners.
Speaking of world-conquering, the song’s content is substantially more revolutionary than LCD Soundsystem of old. We can’t say when in the American electoral cycle this song was written, but any speculation is justified. Aux barricades, citoyens! Aux last-holdouts-against-Brooklyn-gentrifiers! Squint and you’re hearing the 2017 edition of Bowie’s “”Heroes””, punkish barbs replacing the late great’s crooning. The song’s denouement, quoting Rousseau in imploring the downtrodden to “eat the rich”, is impassioned but hilarious. All the latent political zeal in Murphy’s head (consider the nervy angst in “Yr City’s A Sucker”) has been brought out into the light, and set to big-boy-grinning art rock, complete with close-harmony backing vocals and a casual reference to “Death From Above”.
An early triptych of lyrics offers the best insight into the song’s psyche. Slotting in between guitar arpeggios that reminded this listener of Stereophonics’ “Dakota“, Murphy proclaims: “The first sign divides us / The second is moving to Berlin”, before offering the throwaway, “…But that’s not the state I’m in”. A Genesis reference (1:14, not the Peter Gabriel group) gives way to millennial ennui, and finally to a middle-aged man’s raised middle finger.
The second song, “American Dream“, is a showy, atmospheric waltz, turbocharged by luxuriant analog synths. It’s like the love-child of an orgy of vintage ARPs, Yamaha CS-80s and Korgs. The central descending melody resembles the path of a shooting star across the pregnant night sky. Murphy’s falsetto wails of the titular phrase are shot through by backing “sha-lang, sha-lang’s”, and in a few places aforesaid melody is double-tracked on xylophone. This is as histrionic as a musical—but the plot’s miles better.
Social unrest is again present, but this time as the backdrop for personal crisis. “The revolution was here / That would set you free / From the bourgeoisie,” Murphy sings, but the most crushing lyrics are reserved for the sadness of the comedown following a bad trip, a forgettable liaison, or both:
“Look what happened when you were dreaming / Then punch yourself in the face / So you kiss and you clutch but you can’t fight that feeling / That your one true love is just awaiting your big meeting”
The pathos on display in this song is magnificent—a married father reaches in and wrenches your still-beating heart. Your longing and your dreaming are fools’ errands. When Murphy concedes, “‘Cause the body wants what it’s terrible at taking,” he credibly comes across as a monumental failure—albeit a failure who can write show-tunes.
These songs are triumphs. But would I honestly be truthful if they had underwhelmed? Consider this: I sat on reviewing them until now because they are, for me at least, growers rather than instant hits. They’re accessible, but in a sophisticated way—and yet this certainly isn’t the “dumb body music” of Murphy’s past description. Some of the classic LCD tropes are on show. In the rinky-dink drum machine of “American Dream” and the outro atmospherics of “Call The Police”, I heard vestiges of “Great Release”. But in the main, these songs are at the vanguard of an exciting new chapter.
We’re once again so lucky to have this band in our lives, here to say it right, do it right, and save the day. And to serve small plates and natural wines to residents of Williamsburg.