Wednesday, January 27, 2016

This Happened

Back in 2010, people were pretty certain that This is Happening would be the last album LCD Soundsystem ever released. We now know that those people were wrong; shortly after LCD were confirmed as one of the headliners for the 2016 Coachella festival, James Murphy issued a statement saying that a new album could be expected "sometime this year".

This is great news - I can't wait to hear the music that prompted Murphy to get the band back together, not least because This is Happening never truly satisfied me. It's a great album, for sure, but it's certainly no Sound of Silver, and the plodding likes of Somebody's Calling Me did give me the impression at the time that Murphy had decided to quit not because he wanted to go out on a high, but because he'd simply run out of ideas.

Being an awesome band's final album is a hell of a cross to bear, and truth be told, I always found This is Happening to be a slightly disappointing swansong. However, since TiH is now just 'LCD Soundsystem's third album' and not 'LCD Soundsystem's last album', I figured it was time for a reappraisal. Perhaps I asked too much of this record back when I thought I wasn't getting another?

One of the first things that struck me upon returning to This is Happening was Murphy's repeated use of the word 'home'. Sure, it's the name of the closing track, but that's just the tip of the iceberg - by my count, no fewer than five of the album's nine tracks feature some reference to 'home', usually in the form of an exhortation like 'take me home' or 'take us home'.

(In case you're wondering, those five songs are All I Want, I Can Change, You Wanted a Hit, Pow Pow, and of course Home. Interestingly, while Murphy doesn't use the word 'home' in Somebody's Calling Me, he does repeatedly mention "the place where I live", as if he's suddenly determined to avoid using the word he's been dropping all over the place until now.)

So, straight away, This is Happening is thematically stronger and more cohesive than I noticed the first time around. Furthermore, when listening to the album this morning, I noticed a nice touch on tracks one and nine: the 'aah-aah' bit from Dance Yrself Clean reappears towards the end of Home, which gives the album a sort of bookended, full-circle completeness.

Revisiting TiH with fresh ears has also made me realise just how good some of these songs are. Pow Pow and Home and You Wanted a Hit are insistent foot-hypnotics; it's simply impossible not to tap along with those beats (which, incidentally, make great walking music), and Murphy's gift for words ensures that each one is a treat for the brain as well as for the body.

So, yes: the fact that This is Happening is no longer the full stop at the end of the LCD Soundsystem story does seem to have changed my view of the album and allowed me to assess it more on its own merits than on how well it wraps everything up.

However, that relief of duty isn't totally to This is Happening's advantage. While I certainly feel more positive about Home knowing that it's not The Last Ever LCD Soundsystem Song, that knowledge does rob the song (and the eight that precede it) of a deeper meaning that worked in the album's favour even as it huffed and puffed under the burden of coming last. Five years ago, the recurring pleas to be taken 'home' were a clever metaphor for Murphy, who by that point was utterly tired of touring the world, wanting to pack it all in; now, with another international tour on the horizon, 'home' is just a word that's all over the album for no particular reason.

Similarly, songs like I Can Change and Somebody's Calling Me are less interesting (even less interesting, in the latter's case) now that the 'band breaking up' context has been taken away. I Can Change is now just a song about a relationship that's on its last legs, whereas it used to be a song about a dying relationship that was actually a sly nod to James Murphy's feelings towards the band. The message of Somebody's Calling Me - basically 'I don't want to be in a relationship right now' - no longer has that clever meta-ness that probably made up for its ho-hum accompaniment back in the day.

On balance, I'd still say that I'm a bigger fan of This is Happening now than I was when it was first released. And, as previously mentioned, I'm thrilled that LCD Soundsystem are back together and working on a fourth album - I'm not for a second wishing away their reunion. But I can't shake the feeling that, in some way, This is Happening is slightly poorer for having lost its spot at the end of LCD's discography; even the title (which sounds like something one might say to assure a partner that, yes, the relationship is really over) feels a little neutered now. I mean, sure, it happened...but now that it's unhappened, it seems like kind of a small deal.

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