Certain artists manage to stay recognizable, if not relevant, as time passes. Everyone knows a Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or Bee Gees tune, and some of them manage to fulfill the same purpose they had decades ago — to get people on the dance floor. At the same time, generations of people can sing along to iconic choruses from the Beatles or big-hair bands like Journey and Bon Jovi. Those were popular bands that can be recognized as such now.
Like other non-mainstream cultures, history hasn’t been so kind to the alternative music of days past. That’s right, people: alt music didn’t just magically pop up with 1990s rock groups. Imagine, for a moment, that you are in a group of other college students, and you’re asked to keep your hand raised until you hear an artist you’ve never heard of. David Bowie, Talking Heads, B52’s, Can, Kraftwerk, Siouxsie and the Banshees . . . by the end of the list, there will be nary a hand raised in that room. These were weird groups, oftentimes German or influenced by German music, crafting off-the-wall dance tracks laced with punk and krautrock. At best, some hipsters or self-classified music scholars would acknowledge these groups as important parts of the alt music canon.
Then there are people like James Murphy. Murphy grew up completely enamored by the sounds from these artists. At the time, he may have been part of a cool underground scene. Now, he’s almost 50 years old, and that music that used to make him dance is out of style. That didn’t stop him from creating LCD Soundsystem, which made a name for itself in 2005 as a complete revival of that old hipster sound, doing for krautrock what Daft Punk did for disco — make people dance to it again while retaining its integrity.
Up to their breakup in 2011, LCD Soundsystem, thanks to its excellent sense of rhythm and Murphy’s caustic wit, amassed a brilliant discography featuring some of the greatest tracks of this young millennium, such as “All My Friends” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” Then, as if they knew that their “we’re old and like old things” shtick would be best as a short-lived experience, they disbanded. And then, as if they realized that they could never escape that young, dancing rebel within them, they reformed for “American Dream,” their fourth album and first in seven years.
For those familiar with LCD’s narrative, “American Dream” supplies more of the same. “tonite,” with its robotic bass and vocoder harmonies, sounds like what people in the 1980s imagined the future would be. Lead single “call the police” features soaring guitar and driving drums that would make New Order proud. Meanwhile, “other voices” instantly settles into a groove that invades your body and commands movement. Over it all, Murphy contemplates what it means to be an aging man in a young person’s world, where the state of the world isn’t advancing as one would hope: “Time isn’t over, times aren’t better/So it’s letting you down.”
Some of the tracks on here are reminiscent of standard LCD songs that deliver pretty much as expected. However, for a group that only released three LPs and then went into retirement for over half a decade, it doesn’t always feel like this new album was entirely worth the publicity surrounding the reunion. At the same time, there are songs liable to take your breath away with their beauty: opener “oh baby” is a towering synth-laden break-up song with such Murphy-esque imagery as “We move like a bad scene shot in the dark;” and the titular track “american dream” combines gorgeous production and storytelling brimming with sarcasm and sadness in a way that rivals classic LCD cuts like “All I Want” or “Someone Great.”
The niche audience — a particularly large niche, but niche nonetheless — that craves new LCD Soundsystem music is undoubtedly pleased with “American Dream.” The question of why this exists, and why that much-publicized breakup had to exist, is less important than the fact that it does exist. It is a welcome addition to their catalogue, introducing some of their greatest songs, even though the release as a whole lacks the whirring energy of their self-titled debut, the masterful craft of “Sound of Silver” or the finality of “This Is Happening.” LCD Soundsystem has proven that they don’t come in stages. You get what you hear, which is a well-balanced mix of dance and punk. If you don’t like it, you probably aren’t alone. If you do, be thankful that James Murphy is around to keep it alive.