Page 2 of 2The caustic rant might be James Murphy's natural medium, and "Pow Pow" is his most epic volley of shit-talk to date. As it starts with existential musing over lightly tropical disco, the spoken word of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" comes to mind. Murphy isn't as arch as David Byrne and much more scattered, dropping a meditation on subjectivity in mid-thought to note the quality of restaurants in his neighborhood. His mind flips at random from dissing Michael Musto to using President Obama as a bludgeon against holier-than-thou Euros. No one's sounded this convincingly extemporaneous since early Pavement, maybe. Of course, beneath all that, the groove remains meticulous. This sort of off-the-cuff goofiness has always been a key part of LCD Soundsystem's appeal, and lead single "Drunk Girls" is a typical mix of the seriously silly and the deceptively deep. Again, there's a whiff of Bowie, with a gender specific call and response a la "Boys Keep Swinging." But it sounds like nothing so much as grad students trying to turn their minds off on Spring Break, but unable to stop dissecting the semiotics of the surrounding hedonism.
Murphy's original trick was to cast the scenester as star. In "Losing My Edge" he brought to the foreground a certain type of cultural appreciator, gadflies who know everything about everything and tinker on the margins of inspiration ("working on the organ sounds" maybe) without actually producing anything of their own. They're the sort who fantasizes about how great it'd be to get Daft Punk to play a house party, rather than how great it'd be to be Daft Punk. This Is Happening's great meta moment, "You Wanted a Hit," illustrates LCD's growth from presumed hipster novelty to treasured indie paragon. Antagonism between profit-minded corporate suits and sweet, noble artists has been an ever-present storyline in pop music. Given his critical clout and loyal audience (in addition to his cage-fighting prowess) it seems unlikely that anyone is actually giving Murphy that much shit about topping the charts, but it's exactly the kind of classic record clerk conversation you'd expect him to dive into now that he's the product being dissected over the counter. A willfully obtuse lead-in guarantees that this one won't be on the radio, but it's catchy and tough—though not as fierce as it'll sound live in six months, if you believe the lyrics.
Murphy has suggested that This Is Happening might be the last LCD Soundsystem record. With his exhaustive knowledge of rock history, leaving a slim, consistent catalog might hold a heightened allure. The band's breakout songs, "Someone's Great" and "All My Friends," opened their aesthetic up, providing genuine emotional resonance to a band previously defined by knowing distance. They weren't love songs, exactly, a legacy-hole plugged by the new wave highlight "I Can Change." In it, love is described as "a murderer," a "curse wrapped in a hearse," as "bad poetry," none of which stop Murphy from pleading for it, heart-on-sleeve. His voice is sweet, miles from the adenoidal Mark E. Smith tics of his first record. The breezy warmth extends to the album-closing "Home." Where Murphy used to mock from the sidelines, he now provides intimate, friendly advice to openly accept life's comforts. "Look around you, you're surrounded, it won't get any better," he says. Whether or not this is the LCD Soundsystem's swan song, it's hard to imagine how it could.