It’s 2011 and I’m sat in my sister’s car. Her stereo is permanently tuned to Radio 1, and in eighteen months time she’ll update her Facebook status with a : ( on the morning of Chris Moyles’ final breakfast show.
Some soppy, non-descript r’n’b song starts up, the singer sounding desperately sincere. Having withheld my opinions on the presenters, throughout the news report and in spite of the tweeting listeners, I wilfully break our musical détente for a matter of public interest.
“Did you hear what he just sang?!” I cry out.
My sister gives a distracted tut-and-sigh which I immediately protest.
I believed I’d just heard lyrics that must surely be a spoof. Lyrics that seemed almost sociopathic in their comprehension of what a person should hope to offer their significant other.
An aberration in the history of songwriting.
I believed the world would share my hyperbolic vitriol, and that this song would be universally panned.
The song was Grenade by Bruno Mars. And I was wrong.
By itself, this was not enough to make me wish to leave the country. But when the opportunity arose to temporarily move to the other side of the world it made the decision easier. The outward journey, to New Zealand, via Asia confirmed that Grenade had gone viral, but the return journey through the United States confirmed my worst fears of a pandemic. The usually reliably-fundamental Americans had forsaken the sanctity of marriage en masse, and were now singing along with Bruno about getting wed as a dumb prank to alleviate boredom.
Maybe music isn’t made for me anymore.
Maybe I am losing my edge.
But, a few months later, in a hip shop in Chicago I stop still. Over an electro-disco beat somebody is wistfully crooning: “Dance with me until I feel alright”. Like buying framed art for your living room wall or saying no to that sixth pint of beer, this is a sentiment that could only be appreciated by people older than twenty-five. James Murphy, frontman of LCD Soundsystem was forty when he recorded this track.
I type the most distinctive of the lyrics into my phone which I later Google, and then listen to the song again on Youtube. My mum would have been suitably impressed. My friends would wonder why I didn’t use Shazam, or some other new app. (But I was on Facebook in 2005! When you needed a university email address and your finger on the pulse!!)
When my sister joined that social networking site it immediately lost its cultural cache. Not that she is innately uncool though. Back in the nineties I used to steal CDs from her. She was my source of new, cutting edge music, but somewhere along the way she grew up and gave up. I first noticed it when we were driving to Manchester a couple of years ago. The White Stripes came on the radio and She Turned The Volume Down.
And there I was. In 2011, in that same car. But this time I’m reaching for the volume control. Not for the first time was I railing against something popular, but out of sheer frustration I heard myself question what had happened to “proper pop music” and also wonder aloud what had happened to “proper lyrics”.
Somewhere in between The Strokes’ first and fourth albums I had gotten old.
Nothing quite confirms that you are losing you edge more than when the “new” bands that you discover turn out to be defunct. (Except for realising that you won’t be able to buy standing-room only tickets to see them live and feeling a slight tinge of relief.)
But LCD Soundsystem changes that. From the sudden blast of distorted machine gun bursts - reminiscent of the crunching guitar chorus of Creep - in Dance Yrself Clean, to the dreaming, heart wrenching longings of Home, their third and final album This Is Happening reawakens that raw, intense excitement and connection with music that had started to heal over.
This is a record by a man who clearly has an extensive record collection, but the influences (Talking Heads, David Bowie) feel as though they have been percolating, and assimilating themselves into the overall sound rather than being ripped off wholesale. The lyrics have an assured perspective to them. It takes exhausted experience to be able to say “From now on/I want what I want”, and when James Murphy pleads with us to “Shut the door on terrible times…[and] forget a terrible year”, it doesn’t feel like it’s the first person who has asked that of us recently.
The album’s lead single Drunk Girls is visceral and inanely riotous, while being both perceptive and irreverent it is irresponsibly catchy. All I Want channels Arcade Fire and the Velvet Underground on a song detailing the unsalvageable unravelling of a relationship, with loose, noodling guitars overwhelming and eventually drowning out Murphy’s vocals.
Pow Pow and You Wanted A Hit are extended streams of consciousness whose seeming randomness and nonchalance belie a witty charm and literacy.
But this is an album primarily to be felt, and on the first track we are asked not to “kill it with close inspection” but rather dance ourselves clean.
This Is Happening is not considered radio friendly. With some songs in excess of seven minutes they contravene the accepted boundaries for length.
So the next time I am out driving with my sister I bring along the CD to give her an introduction. She taps along her feet to the opening track until it explodes with a cacophony of drums and synths.
She grimaces at the noise of it all. She goes to turn the volume down.
And I smile. A deeply satisfied, youthful smile.