In the beginning I shared in the cynicism with which many stalwart LCD Soundsystem fans greeted the news that their idols were to reunite. In retrospect it is a dumb attitude to adopt, like Christians being annoyed by the second coming of Christ because it did not coincide with a seven-headed, fourhundred-toothed beast rising from a fiery lake. But I had been there when it all supposedly came to an end, and I had become emotionally invested in it. This was happening and it moved me. I stood in the crowd in Sheffield clapping as they left the stage at the end of the last show that I would ever see them play and felt sad. I watched the documentary about the build up to their final show, Shut Up and Play the Hits, and my heart went out to James as he stood in the big warehouse space filled with instruments and, alone in the room save for a distant cameraman, he cried like a man finally alone from guests at a funeral. I've seen that documentary more than once, and I have cried with him.
I was emotionally invested in LCD Soundsystem, and the end of their story seemed poetic. In some bizarre way it meant something. As a band who were built of bits and pieces taken from music geekery throughout the ages, they had done well to establish credibility among audiences and critics alike. Murphy's self conscious and honest lyrics about being in a band, hipsters and trends of the now vs trends of the then were at once entertaining and on the money. He became a sleek satirist given to throwing passages of naked honesty and self depreciation into the pot. For people in touring bands, a song like "All My Friends" spoke truths that they hadn't known existed until they were laid out in front of them, and then they too had to look at the madness of what they were doing.
When Murphy resuscitated the LCD moniker I felt that the integrity with which he had allowed it to die had been laid out in the muck, and any emotional attachment that I felt to that part of the band's history had been sullied like a smutty magazine. Of course, part of me was happy to have American Dream, new music by a band I had admittedly loved. But on first listen I thought that it sounded like a re-tread of the boards already trodden on This Is Happening. I would have hoped that Murphy had got the band back together because he thought he had something new to present to us, but my embittered ear only heard an easy cash in on past glories.
Then a month ago, just before the lockdown was called, I played my final show with my band Johnny Kowalski and The Sexy Weirdos. I had been with them for ten years, almost to the day. I toured Europe with them seven times, and the night of my final show with them, March 14th, was also the release party for our fourth album. My reasons for leaving were many, but few of them were negative. Certainly I had grown tired of driving the band vast distances to shows, as I had the hours sitting in squats or bars waiting agitatedly for showtime. I no longer longed to be back on the road, free and unbound from the shackles of life. I had a woman who lived me at home and I didn't want to put her through two weeks alone by herself, worrying what I was doing and who with. I also had no desire to be away from her that time.
There are a couple of songs that I believe attempt to summarise the madness into which one can descend on vast stretches of road, a madness that is inevitable when the only time you are allowed out of a metal can hurtling at great speeds into uncharted wilderness is to play noisy shows to adoring crowds. The first is "Oh My Lord" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The other is All My Friends. Both have brought tears to my eyes. The latter contains the line, "I wouldn't trade one stupid decision for another five years of life" and it wallops me flat every time I hear it.
I am stuck now in isolation, just as the rest of you are. I have no idea how long it is likely to go on, but what I do know is that I have spent this time wisely, adding to the memoir I started some time ago about life on the road, hoping to extract from memories some sort of truth about what drives people to live that way and, more importantly, what it does to them. During my reminiscing I admit I have felt the soft pangs of sadness that James Murphy felt as he stood alone in that warehouse looking at all of the instruments he used to cart across the world. In that sadness I came to accept why he might have tried to end the band once, but ultimately found that he couldn't leave that itch unscratched for ever.
And so with fresh ears and fresh perspective I returned to American Dream and found it to be a welcome addition to the LCD catalogue, even with that dreadful cover art. Certainly it is nothing startlingly new, but it is something like a continuance of a sound that has been gradually evolving since Murphy dropped Losing My Edge / Beat Connection. The songs are less definable as 'dance-punk' and are closer to the territory of 'art-rock' that David Bowie uninhabited. "Change Your Mind", a defiant message to people like me who doubted the reformation, contains the kind of guitar eccentrics that Robert Fripp was scrawling all over Scary Monsters. Opener "Oh Baby" is almost beatless, and floats romantically at the outset, setting a tone for the record. Loss. Loss of friends, loss of love, loss of colleagues, loss of heroes. Murphy must have felt LCD Soundsystem as a loss too, but one from which he could stop the hurt fallout by reinvigorating it.
Despite the bright blue sky and warm sun of the cover, there is more darkness at the heart of this American Dream, the kind which HST and F. Scott Fitzgerald dove into in their most noteable works. This take does not reach such heights, and the darkness which Murphy finds through synthesis of music and lyrics is one that lies at the heart of all of us, American or otherwise. It is death, finality. The closer one gets to it the more terrifying the frivolity with which you experienced your life becomes. Memory becomes the important quantifier of existence, and the lessons that were there to be learned all along only reveal themselves in the reflections of the individual who now hears the ticking of the clock.
"All the hits are saying the same thing/There's only tonite/Man, life is finite/But, shit, it feels like forever."
Sure, you can dance to tracks like "Tonite", but you can't ignore the lines that you hear above your footwork, drifting into the harsh reality receptors of the brain. The tempos are designed to entertain a festival crowd on the return of the king tour, but the words are those that are only appreciable later in life when something or someone great is gone. The longer I have spent in isolation with this record the more it impresses on me the finite nature of our existence, and now, more so than at any other time in this generation's existence, the infinity lie is being eroded as the statistics come to us each day. Trapped indoors we only have our memories of far flung adventure with which to stretch our legs. We appreciate anew the fresh air that we recollect dimly from the time we sat by the falls in Yosemite, or stood against the sea as it crashed around us on Dun Laoghaire pier, and we recall now why it was we were screaming at it.
Memory is a precious thing and it is that which I fear losing more so than any other aspect of death. If I could be dead with my memories accessible by my depleted conscious then I would fear death no more. As it is, in the uncertainty with which I look beyond this life, recording these memories and making sense of them seems the most immortal thing I can hope to do. Perhaps James Murphy too felt this, and this was the reason that he worked a Lazarus on a project he thought once, as old age approached, could only bring him ruin. As it turned out, he realised, that it can only bring him life.