American Dream has a lot of pressure on it. Not only is it LCD Soundsystem’s first album in seven years (during which they prolifically broke up and then reunited) but with the band’s existing albums being so beloved it can’t really get away with being just okay. It needs to be good enough to justify the band getting back together.
Thankfully, to cut to the chase, American Dream is great. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the band’s best work but it’s a reunion album that definitely delivers. It pushes LCD Soundsystem into some new territory, having a more melancholy and personal tone than their previous albums, while still sounding very distinctively like them. There are no out-and-out fun tracks here like ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ or ‘Drunk Girls’, with there being a more heavy focus on dark and introspective ones.
‘Oh Baby’ sets up the mood of the album well. It’s the melancholiest opener an LCD Soundsystem album has ever had with its neon-tinged synths and almost somber vocals. It has a wistful feel to it, like many of the band’s best tracks yearning towards the past. (Both through the lyrics and the very 80s feel to the instrumentation.) The song somehow manages to succeed at sounding unlike any of the band’s other songs and yet, at the same time, sounding as though it’s always existed.
Many of American Dream’s best songs are the slower and sadder ones, just like ‘Oh Baby’. On the title track, James Murphy sings about a middle-aged man who wakes up from a one-night stand filled with self-loathing. It’s a song about unrealised dreams and knowing that the only person holding you back is yourself. (‘Look what happened when you were dreaming, then punch yourself in the face’.) The descending synths in the background compliment the song’s depressing lyrics well, adding power to the story being told.
‘Black Screen’, Murphy’s tribute to David Bowie, is another highlight. It’s another slow track, starting off with a minimalist electronic beat before slowly transitioning into a gorgeous piano solo. Like ‘American Dream’, the lyrics on the song feel personal, though to a much more heartbreaking extent. Murphy reflects on his relationship with Bowie – ‘You fell between a friend and father’ – trying to come to terms with his death. Especially moving is the revelation of what the titular ‘black screen’ actually is.
Many of the album’s more up-tempo moments are strong as well, such as lead single ‘Call the Police’, which is perhaps the most anthemic song LCD Soundsystem has put out since ‘All My Friends’. It’s not all too original thematically (calling for people to fight against those in power) but the band execute it incredibly well. ‘Emotional Haircut’, another of the album’s more energetic moments, is a lot less successful. Despite reaching a satisfying climax, much of the song comes across as grating. (The band’s repeated chanting on the song’s title in particular feels forced and slightly obnoxious.)
The majority of American Dream’s other songs feel very much like spiritual successors to older LCD Soundsystem songs – succeeding in varying degrees. ‘Other Voices’ features the same rambling, stumbling tone as This Is Happening’s ‘Pow Pow’, but doesn’t quite match up to it. (Though Nancy Whang’s verse does save the song a bit.) ‘How Do You Sleep?’ – which has a lot in common with ‘Dance Yrslf Clean’ – fares better. The song starts off with a particularly ominous drumbeat, building slowly before reaching an incredible drop halfway through. The personal lyrics, in which Murphy reflects on a fractured relationship with a former friend, give the song even more power and stop it from feeling like a carbon copy of ‘Dance Yrslf Clean’. The track reconfirms how fantastic LCD Soundsystem are at making a nine-minute song feel like three minutes.
‘Tonite’, a song that hearkens back to the band’s very first single ‘I’m Losing My Edge’, is equally great. It’s pretty much just James Murphy ranting over a synth beat… but his ranting is just really good. What starts off as an observation about how every song seems to be about the same thing – there’s only ‘tonight’ – leads to a number of great tangents about getting older and feeling out of touch. It’s not exactly fresh territory for the band, but the song has a lot of great lines, easily being the album’s most quotable track. (‘Life is finite, but shit, it feels like forever).
With so many great songs, American Dream more than justifies LCD Soundsystem’s reunion. If you’re a fan of the band’s older work, you’re sure to enjoy it. Tracks like ‘Black Screen’ show Murphy at his most personal and vulnerable, while others like ‘Tonite’ show that the band still know how to put together a great electronic beat. It’s a perfect blend of old sounds and new ones.
Best Tracks: ‘How Do You Sleep?’, ‘Tonite’, ‘American Dream’