James Murphy was refreshingly plain-speaking as to why he was bringing LCD Soundsystem back from the dead, barely four years after he’d rolled its still-warm body into the Hudson. While he offered a sincere apology to fans who felt betrayed by the reprisal, he explained he had more songs than he knew what to do with. As ready as people were to speculate about Coachella pay cheques, the reunification was always about this record.
So was it worth it? Well, if the usual disappointment with comeback albums is in hearing a once youthful band sounding world-weary and tired, then Murphy is uniquely positioned for success. After all, he’s sounded world-weary and tired from the beginning. This is a band who broke through with a song about losing your edge to the kids “coming up from behind”. LCD Soundsystem have always partied in the past tense.
Yet if the Murphy of 2002 was nervously eyeing the generation below him, then American Dream finds him bewildered, gawping from another planet. “Standing on the shore getting old, you left me here with the vape clown,” he laments on the menacing how do you sleep? With nods to “triggered kids” and the “questionable views” of the “old guys”, he doesn’t sound particularly at home with either generation, and perhaps not at home in America at all.
His perplexion with the state of things occasionally touches on dull misanthropy, but mostly Murphy’s wit saves him from himself. Just before his judgements get a bit much, he refers to himself as “a hobbled veteran of the disc shop inquisition”, and you’re inclined to forgive him his trespasses. That said, the album’s preoccupation with ageing clings to it like a shadow. Murphy often sounds like he’s picking drunken fights with his memories: “You warned me about the cocaine, then dove straight in,” he jabs, surrounded by a wall of bickering synths. “So where’d you go? You led me far away,” he wails on I used to.
Album closer, Black screen, is a heartbreaking finale, delivered to a friend of Murphy’s who’s no longer around. Given the references to saving email trails and the admission “I had fear in the room so I stopped turning up”, it seems the subject of the song is probably David Bowie. Murphy was supposed to be co-producing Blackstar before he pulled out, and over the years the pair had become friends. The pangs sound real and sore. As Murphy sings on tonite: “Man, life is finite, but, shit it feels like forever.”
American Dream isn’t necessarily a riot to listen to – the average pace sounds more like a slow procession than it does a rave. It is, in all honesty, unlikely to be anyone’s favourite LCD album. Yet for this record to mean anything it had to be more than a recapitulation of the band’s previous anthemic heights. Murphy had to earn our trust back with something meaningful; something worth the upset. With this poignant portrait of ageing and ennui in post-satire America, he has.