Following up Sound of Silver was never going to be easy for LCD Soundsystem. There was so much positive reaction from music fans, the press, from everywhere, really, that almost any move James Murphy made was bound to be seen as inferior, or at the very least, flawed in some way. To his credit, he doesn’t try to do anything dramatically different on This Is Happening. There are no attempts to hit the top of the charts (a point made crystal clear in the song “You Wanted a Hit”); conversely, there are no attempts to dirty up the sound or make it more challenging. There are no radically new elements added to the LCD sound, nothing subtracted either. Murphy is definitely a savvy enough musician to know when things have gotten stale and need to be changed up; he at some point must have decided (correctly) that the time for a reboot hadn’t arrived yet for LCD. Another record of long, dancefloor friendly disco-fied jams mixed with punchy rockers and paced with a couple introspective midtempo ballads is still perfectly acceptable, especially when it’s as tightly arranged, energetically played, and thoughtfully constructed as Happening is. Murphy’s highly skilled production is all over the record, from the squelchy layers of synths, the dry punch of the drums, and the tricks and surprises that bring the songs to life, to the way he makes it sound like a live band when it’s just him (though there are the occasional people helping out, most notably Nancy Whang on backing vocals). And while there isn’t a song as staggeringly emotional as Silver’s “All My Friends,” or as simply and heartfelt as its N.Y.C. tribute “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down,” Murphy continues to expand as a songwriter and lyricist. He’s still the master of deadly zingers ("Eat it Michael Musto/You’re no Bruce Vilanch") and hilarious streams of lyrical gems (all of “Drunk Girls”), but songs like the nakedly emotional "I Can Change" (which includes the sweetly romantic plea for someone to “bore me and hold me and cling to my arm”) and the insistently melancholy “Somebody’s Calling Me” show continued growth and impressive range. Of course, if you aren’t all that interested in lyrics, artistic growth, and feelings, you can just crank up songs like "One Touch," "Pow Wow," or "Home" real loud and dance. At heart, Murphy remains a dance music producer and these tracks reveal him at the top of his game. This Is Happening doesn’t quite reach the monumental heights of Sound of Silver, but it serves as an almost-there companion and further proof that LCD Soundsystem is one of the most exciting and interesting bands around in the 2000s.
© Tim Sendra /TiVo