Today’s music fan knows that no band’s breakup is permanent, and so the inevitable reunions are no longer greeted with skepticism or scorn. Yet when LCD Soundsystem reunited just five years after throwing themselves the massive going-away party documented in “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” it left many fans of the Brooklyn dance-rockers with a sour taste. “American Dream,” LCD Soundsystem’s first album since 2010, is James Murphy’s attempt to win those people back, while taking stock of the personal and political changes the past seven years have wrought. Comically awful cover art notwithstanding, it’s a strong effort, appealing in equal measure to the hips, head, and heart.
On “American Dream,” Murphy reassumes his rightful title as king of the record snobs. “Emotional Haircut” and “Change Yr Mind” are note-perfect homages to Gang of Four and “Remain in Light”-era Talking Heads, while “Tonite” skewers the carpe diem-obsessed tropes of pop lyricism. The band isn’t above borrowing from its past, either; album highlight “Call the Police” vamps on a repetitive rhythm while gradually building in intensity, the trick that made “All My Friends” such a powerful anthem. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “How Do You Sleep?” resembles nothing LCD Soundsystem has done before. It begins ominously, with martial drum rolls, foreboding chords, and Murphy howling as if from inside a cave. Suddenly, a disco beat kicks in, and the resulting mashup of “Apocalypse Now” and “Saturday Night Fever,” weird as it sounds, works surprisingly well.
Murphy’s melancholy streak grows more prominent with each album, and “American Dream” continues this trend. The plight of the aging hipster remains one of his great themes, as he mournfully recalls “danc[ing] all night to the rock transmissions” on “I Used To” and tries in vain to reconnect with the old friend who “warned [him] about the cocaine” on “How Do You Sleep?” When the title track’s protagonist chases an empty one-night stand with acid, the existential tailspin he spirals into, plagued with worries about depression, dying rock stars, and everything in between, is both exhausting and deeply relatable. Murphy proves equally incisive on social issues, explicitly calling out anti-Semites on “Call the Police” and capturing the all-consuming paranoia of 2017 (with an assist from keyboardist Nancy Whang) on “Other Voices.”
The nice thing about a short breakup is that you can get back together without missing a step. Full of irresistible grooves, quotable lyrics, and moments of spine-tingling beauty, “American Dream” is a worthy addition to the LCD Soundsystem discography. It’s going to be a lot harder to begrudge them their reunion after this one.Terence Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @terence_cawley.