James Murphy is the unlikeliest of front men; he is not handsome in an obvious way, neither is he handsome in a subtle way. He is slightly overweight and not the sharpest of dressers and he usually looks as though he has slept in his clothes for a few days, has a hangover and does not possess a razor. Yet there are moments on This Is Happening where he evokes memories of, or perhaps even channels, some of the greats; David Bowie ("All I Want"), The Idiot era Iggy Pop ("Somebody's Calling Me") and Talking Heads era David Byrne ("Pow Pow") all receive a nod and a tip of the hat during the album's length. It is fair to say that these men have all been influences on Murphy, but then if we listen to LCD Soundsystem's breakthrough single " Losing My Edge" which reads like a list of cool bands that have made up the history of rock and roll so far it is clear that he has been influenced by almost everyone worth being influenced by. He knows his stuff, and I think that he gives other music geeks like me and you some kind of hope. He is an everyman character who has modestly achieved some fantastic things musically and we are all lucky that he didn't throw in the towel at forty as he suggested he might and gave us a third installment of incredibly likable electro-pop instead.
This Is Happening still has that very unique DIY feel to it, it still seems plausible that these songs were written and possibly even recorded in Murphy's bedroom, possibly with a hangover, possibly whilst drunk. Opening gambit "Dance Yrself Clean" is a slow builder which starts off quietly so as to invite the listener to turn up the volume and then kicks in with a massive keyboard sound that gets the party underway at glass worryingly high volumes before it calms down again and allows Murphy a chance to draw our attention to a colossally bad drum fill which is almost comic in its execution.
And that is another key to the likability of LCD Soundsystem; they have a sense of humour about things and don't seem to take themselves too seriously. They are interested in having a good time, despite the existential ponderings that litter Murphy's lyrics and one need only listen to the acutely observed and satirical lyrics to "Drunk Girls" to realise this. And for those who need an added reminder the accompanying video should do the job.
Elsewhere Murphy is self deprecating during the unusual love song "I Can Change" where he informs the person he is perhaps trying to woo that "Love is a verse/Shoved in a Hearse/Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me" and ironic and playful when the song entitled "You Wanted a Hit" includes a lengthy three minute introduction before any vocals or main hooks begin which, added to the fact that it clocks in at nine minutes, instantly excludes it from any radio station's playlist despite the fact that, once it gets going, it is quite an infectious little number with a propulsive rhythm the like of which we have come to expect from the group.
But all joking aside, and in spite of the DIY feel to many of the album's songs, there are moments where something special happens. "All I Want" transcends mere party music and, with a guitar line which nostalgically conjures up the mood and sound of David Bowie's " Heroes" creates one of this years most touching and beautiful musical moments and it feels like a song which has always been part of the musical map, a song which has universal appeal and true magic to it. But why stop at just one such moment? The album's closer, "Home", has a soaring vocal line which suggests that Murphy is pushing his voice into territories he has never strayed into before and has become more than just a witty and original lyricist and discovered he is a singer with an ear for a life affirming melody. All of the beautiful moments seem to be born out of a twinge of sadness that seems to prevail throughout many of the lyrics. Perhaps sadness is the wrong word, but there is certainly a disillusionment to Murphy's ramblings that perhaps give us an insight into why he will be disbanding after this.
"Pow Pow" is another highlight which combines all of the pieces which make LCD Soundsystem great; a compelling beat driven by a bass line right out of the Tina Weymouth songbook, a gradual build to a moment of dreamy elation, and hilarious lyrics delivered in a truly unique manner (including my personal favourite "We have a black President and you don't so shut up!").
At over an hour in length and under ten tracks in make up, This Is Happening does run the risk of being too much for some people to take, but I can't think of what those people would be like and I'm not sure that they are the sort of people I'd want to spend much time with. There isn't a moment in which to be bored, there is always something to get your toe tapping, to coax a smile from your lips or to fill you with the same kind of elation that "All My Friends" delivered in 2007. Lyrically it is difficult to tell whether or not Murphy is lamenting or laughing which keeps you listening intently. If anything this all goes to prove that he might be an unusual frontman but he knows his music, perhaps even better than we do. The difference is that rather than using his musical geekery to prove himself as worthy to other music nerds in internet chatrooms he has used it as a springboard from which to jump into new territory and make some wonderful music of his own which remains his own despite recalling the greats.