James Murphy is that rare artist of his time whose personal hang-ups reflect those of his generation—specifically its tendency toward endless, Twittering solipsism and its belief that being “cool” is a perpetual competition. Just look at the title, This Is Happening: It’s as though Murphy (and we) need reminding that the present is more than a status update. Stock-still in his own raging dance party, Murphy has always come off as locked inside his head, from the self-aware jibes of “Losing My Edge” to the nostalgia-for-the-now of “All My Friends.” His third album as LCD Soundsystem moves even further beyond ironic distance toward introspection and unguarded affection. (It’s no coincidence that Murphy recorded these tracks right after scoring Noah Baumbach’s thematically similar Greenberg.)
That may surprise everyone who hears “Drunk Girls,” but even the frat-romp silliness of that unabashedly dumb little ditty is just a mask for a stodgily old-fashioned chorus of “I believe in waking up together.” All told, Murphy wants nothing more than a comfy bed and someone to share it with: He ends “All I Want” and “Pow Pow” begging “Take me home,” and echoes that refrain in “Someone’s Calling Me” and the tellingly titled closer “Home.” And he’s more than just playing world-weary rock star—though as the critic-baiting “Pow Pow” and the industry-goading “You Wanted A Hit” attest, he’s that, too. Murphy’s philosophy is that everything boils down to making an honest connection, to stop being “afraid of what you need,” and he seems more determined than ever to impart that gentle wisdom.
Perhaps the rumor that this is his last LCD album is behind that newfound urgency. If true, it’s a shame, as the band’s Krautrock/Talking Heads-funk fusion has never sounded livelier. (Here, it’s doused in the blaring, off-key synths and jet-engine guitars of Bowie’s Berlin period.) And with the exception of the plodding, “Nightclubbing”-nicking “Someone’s Calling Me,” it never fails to yield satisfying new discoveries. But even if, as Murphy sings, his own “desire for discovery has been used up,” at least he’s given us three great albums to help us keep discovering each other.