by Matt Meade
5. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem (2005)
When James Murphy is good, he is undeniable. When he is good, he is like that stupid 80s movie that comes on cable every once in a while. It’s one of those parody movies where the gags are centered around spit takes and pratfalls and you scoff at it, but you don’t change the channel. You watch that stupid movie on Sunday afternoon because despite how stupid it is, despite all its flaws, laughter is undeniable.
Similarly, when Sound of Silver comes on you scoff. “This guy again,” you think. But you are happy that it’s on because it is a record full of perfect dance riffs and undeniable beats. Undeniable. The bass thunks at just the right cadence. The intertwined drum samples create a golden glowing grid, teaching you where to step, making you feel like you are god damned Michael Jackson in the “Beat it” video. Some of the stuff on that record is so good, that I can forgive the smugly self-satisfied interview he gives everywhere from Fresh Air to GQ. (Dude, you were gonna write for Seinfeld but you just decided you were too cool for all that? That can’t be how it happened. Stop saying that.) But he’s not always good. He’s not always undeniable. Sometimes he is just a clown, dressed up like your idols.
The record starts with a tune that has become a classic. It’s a classic partly because it has a catchy bass line and some sweet handclaps, but mostly because it is funny. “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” tells the story of a kid who raises enough money to host a house party featuring Daft Punk. I am not going to say that it is not a unique idea for a song, but the vampire that we invite into our lives by applauding this kind of effort is one that is not easy to evict from our crappy little apartments.
The conceit of the song is based around in jokes and exclusive groups. The conceit is based around having hipster currency to tender. There is an entry fee to get into this party. Murphy, the doorman for this party, even refuses to let the jocks in the front door. Even with the premium Murphy seems to place on originality, this cliché about jocks being assholes is one that Murphy won’t eschew, presumably because he has some axe to grind with all jocks everywhere. He’s holding the scepter now and he’s going to wield it absolutely corruptly.
Even after the bloated double album (!) moves past the opening joke, the rest of the songs unfold as a tapestry knit from references that are not designed to be of use to the music, but to be understood (or better yet, not understood) by the listener. The references are not employed to serve the song and create something new, they are used as a kind of sonic Easter egg hunt calculated to reward those in the know, and to exclude those who are not cool enough to know (i.e. those jocks from earlier who were excluded from the party… fearsome is the tyranny of the oppressed).
Ultimately, the work comes off as overstuffed and pedantic and as something of a quote fest. It fetishizes knowing metadata over actual song craft, values references over creativity. Somehow no one complains when Murphy does it, but when Jet does the same thing with their rock and roll cover band, they are branded rip off artists. But maybe Jet’s sin is that they are ripping off acts who are too obvious, acts like AC/DC and The Kinks, whereas Murphy purloins from slightly deeper in the record crate. For people who have been marginalized because of their geekish attention to pop music history, this record must be a special kind of drug.
By the time you get to the tune “Losing My Edge,” you find out that admission to the Daft Punk party must have been knowledge of the obscure, the weird, the esoteric. The roll call at the end of the song is like watching James Murphy count his money. And I’ll admit it. I had never heard of David Axelrod before I listened to the song. Or Mantronix, or 10cc, but why must these recommendations be embedded in a song? If James Murphy is as thoughtful and erudite as he would lead us to believe, why won’t he just write about all these artists rather than doing bad parodies of them. It feels like he is the world’s greatest music critic and he has decided to go ahead and make a record. I guess that he was almost universally applauded because his taste in music is so impeccable. I am not being facetious abut that either. The man knows good music. I think, perhaps, that the music writers were blinded by it. Or maybe they felt out geeked and they were afraid not to like it. They were afraid if they didn’t gush over it, they would be ostracized and alienated from their community, which is just a collection of outsiders to begin with. Maybe they were afraid of being accused of being the only music critic to have never heard of The Creation, or ESG, the only critic to “not get it.”
But getting it is different than liking it. When you put Mr. Murphy up against his idols, he feels like, at best, a tribute act and, at worst, a parody. Indeed Murphy’s record comes close to being the best “Weird Al” Yankovick Record since the soundtrack to UHF. At times the music gets so parodic that it feels disrespectful to talk about his work in the same breath as artists who released great albums the same year as this one, (albums like Kanye West’s Late Registration, The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday, and Antony & the Johnsons’ I Am a Bird Now) or the artists he relentlessly name checks in his songs and interviews, (artists like The Stooges, Can, and Scott Walker). And somehow he presents all this in such a way that if you get mad at him, he wins.
I feel like if I point out that “Never As tired as When I’m Waking Up” is a straight rip off of “Dear Prudence,” that Mr. Murphy will be “taking the piss out of me,” as the Brits say. I feel like if I volunteer to be an expert witness for when Mark E. Smith sues James Murphy for copyright infringement for stealing “Movement” directly from a Fall record (any fucking Fall record), that James Murphy will somehow win. He won’t win the court case of course, cuz the evidence is irrefutable, but I feel like he is some kind of Kaiser Soze-esque character who wants to get caught. His master plan starts after he is found guilty. This is all some sort of insane prank designed to make anyone who loses their cool look stupid. “Can’t you take a joke” he wants to know when I inevitable lose it and start screaming about what a smug, arrogant fucker he is. I feel like if I point out the audacity of a dance record producer making a super repetitive song called “On Repeat,” that he wins somehow.
But music is a serious matter, so put down that fucking guitar James. Just cuz you paid for it, doesn’t mean you know how to play it. Shit, just because you know how to play it doesn’t mean you know how to play it. This shit isn’t funny anymore.
Song I would listen to if you held a gun to my head: At least if you listen to “Losing my Edge,” you can find out about some cool new bands.
Listen to this Instead: Something that is actually fun. I need to listen to some Otis Redding to cleanse my spirit after listening to 100 minutes of that blowhard.