In the afterword to his 2005 treatise on post-punk music from 1978-84, Rip it Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds theorised that, after this era, a primary pleasure for the hip listener of alternative dance-rock began to lie in the identification of an artist’s musical influences and of the allusions and citations in their song.
The most switched-on listener of LCD Soundsystem’s comeback album, American Dream, (“comeback” only inasmuch as the previous record was a limited edition quintuple live album entitled The Long Goodbye) could not fail to sense a tip-of-the-tongue taste of the bygone post-punk era it is clearly indebted to: the opener ‘Oh Baby’ is a lugubrious, synth-cleansed Disintegration-era Cure ballad; ‘Other Voices’ kneels before the Almighty Funk-Power of The Groove as foretold by Talking Heads; ‘Emotional Haircut’, which contains some of the albums’ most exhilarating moments, grinds to a rockified underbeat as sourced from Suicide’s ‘Diamonds, Fur coat, and Champagne’.
American Dream is often thrilling but sometimes dully treads water. LCD Soundsystem are clearly derivative. But then again, why the hell shouldn’t they be?
This retrospective underlay to American Dream was showcased none more so as on their live performance of ‘Tonite’ on Later…With Jools Holland. The crammed, keyboard-packed octet delivers a repetitive, snaking, danceable groove founded on a squelchy 2-note rave-synth riff. ‘Repetition’, of course, was the buzzword for forward-thinking post-punk giants like Public Image Ltd. and The Fall, who themselves infamously wrote a whole song on the concept.
Then there’s the front man James Murphy, looking like Stewart Lee in his navy-blue jacket and wiry grey hair, clutching his microphone in his palm like a walkie-talkie, over-and-outing modern life’s absurdities: the digitalisation of the personality, self-defeat and alienation – “life is finite but, shit, it feels like forever”.
So, what to make of this? American Dream is often thrilling but sometimes dully treads water. LCD Soundsystem are clearly derivative. But then again, why the hell shouldn’t they be?
This is the music of the internet age. This is a time when the past 60 years of Rock ‘n’ Roll output lies sprawled out on its back like a great, paunchy Titan, tied down at its wrists and ankles; we, the thrill-seekers seeking cheap thrills, are the gawky flocks of carrion-crows pecking at its liver.
The music is there to all with Wifi and a will to listen. So why shouldn’t we expect groups like LCD Soundsystem to release records like American Dream in a musical landscape so indebted to the innovations of its predecessors, and with such ease of access to the canon?
The ultimate goal, of course, is to transform what has been and gone into something startling, fresh and new. James Murphy and co. have it in them to sound like no one else but themselves. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the sucker, the snob, but LCD Soundsystem, disappointingly, too often, sound like someone else.