LCD Soundsys­tem re­turns with ‘Amer­i­can Dream’

Cecil Whig - - JUMPSTART - By GREG KOT Chicago Tri­bune

Here’s the thing about most come­backs: They’re rarely worth it, ex­cept to the artist’s bank ac­count. So skep­ti­cism, if not down­right cyn­i­cism, pre­cedes LCD Soundsys­tem’s first al­bum since 2010, a feel­ing com­pounded by LCD’s an­nounce­ment that it was play­ing its “fi­nal” con­cert in 2011.

That’s a lot of bag­gage to shake off, and the ar­rival of “Amer­i­can Dream” (DFA/Columbia) may not be enough to do the job. The al­bum gets per­sonal, but in a more low-key way than ever be­fore. This from a band that spe­cial­ized dur­ing its first in­car­na­tion in blend­ing brisk sin­gles, bit­ter­sweet an­thems and more ex­per­i­men­tal deep cuts.

“Amer­i­can Dream” dou­bles down emo­tion­ally, with fewer ob­vi­ous sin­gles and a slower but more mov­ing ar­ray of songs that gain cu­mu­la­tive power. If pre­re­lease sin­gles “Call the Po­lice” and “Amer­i­can Dream” were a bit un­der­whelm­ing when rated against ear­lier hits such as “Daft Punk is Play­ing at My House” and “Tribu­la­tions,” they res­onate more deeply when heard in the con­text of the en­tire al­bum.

“Amer­i­can Dream” is a breakup al­bum of sorts but not in the tra­di­tional sense. This is about breakups with youth, the past, and the he­roes and vil­lains that pop­u­lated it. It un­der­lines the no­tion of break­ing up as just a step away from let­ting go — of friends, fam­ily, rel­e­vance. Sound fa­mil­iar? Now 47, James Mur­phy is an artist who was fret­ting that he was “los­ing my edge” on the first LCD al­bum. He has never shied from ad­dress­ing the no­tion that the best of him is slip­ping away as the years roll past. On the new al­bum, that view­point feels a lit­tle less ironic and hu­mor­ous than it once did.

Mur­phy opens up as a singer. On the open­ing “Oh, Baby,” he re­pur­poses Sui­cide tracks such as “Dream Baby Dream” and “Cheree” into a noir-ish elec­tro-doo-wop that is even­tu­ally swal­lowed up by a co­coon of key­boards.

The nine-minute “How Do You Sleep?” cops the ti­tle of John Len- non’s ode to betrayal, and Mur­phy turns it into a haunted dream­scape, his voice dis­tant and re­ced­ing against the thun­der of tribal drums. “I re­mem­ber when we were friends,” he sings. “I re­mem­ber call­ing you friend.”

“Tonite” is the al­bum’s catchi­est track, a gal­lop­ing com­plaint about — what else? — artis­tic in­er­tia. The singer breaks down the fourth wall be­tween him and the lis­tener, and of­fers a brief glimpse of the smart-aleck Mur­phy of old. “I never re­al­ized these artists talk so much about time,” he cracks. It’s the “Los­ing My Edge” char­ac­ter turned into a “hob­bled vet­eran.” He ap­pears again in “Change Yr. Mind,” with its skro­nky gui­tar com­ment­ing on the cranky nar­ra­tor’s en­croach­ing feel­ings of ir­rel­e­vance. The ti­tle track, a slow-mo­tion wa­ter­fall, cy­cles through a se­ries of tem­po­rary re­la­tion­ships, a fu­tile at­tempt to stave off mor­tal­ity. “In the morn­ing ev­ery­thing’s clearer/ When the sun­light ex­poses your age,” Mur­phy sings, rue­ful hu­mor in full ef­fect.

It’s the same old shtick in some ways, but it’s worth not­ing that Mur­phy’s strug­gle is not so much against mor­tal­ity as it is com­pla­cency. The mu­sic serves as an an­ti­dote: dis­rup­tive gui­tars that speak in spas­modic bursts on “Change Yr. Mind” or wrig­gle snake­like through “Other Voices,” the in­ter- lock­ing cross rhythms of “I Used To,” the spas­tic funk of “Emo­tional Hair­cut.”

Though Mur­phy can some­times come across as a spoiled up­per­mid­dle-class rock star fret­ting about not be­ing “cool” enough, his af­fec­tion for his mu­si­cal guides is real. He pep­pers the al­bum with nods to Sui­cide’s Alan Vega, Lou Reed and Leonard Co­hen, all of whom died while LCD was away. The clos­ing “Black Screen” is es­sen­tially a 12-minute good­bye to his friend and great­est in­flu­ence, David Bowie. Mur­phy sounds as if he’s singing to him­self in a dark­ened room. He un­spools me­mories and re­grets about a re­la­tion­ship ended too soon, the mu­sic a long, slow fade to black that echoes a line from ear­lier in the al­bum: “Life is fi­nite, but ... it feels like for­ever.”

Bowie re­mained a cre­ative force to the end. He died only days af­ter re­leas­ing one of his most dar­ing al­bums in 2016. You can bet Mur­phy was think­ing about that a lot while LCD Soundsys­tem was away.

3 out of 4 stars

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF WIKIPEDIA COM­MONS

James Mur­phy, front­man and brain­child of LCD Soundsys­tem

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