Third albums come with a lot of pressure. They're typically treated as a chance for a rising band to secure its place in the halls of greatness (see Radiohead's OK Computer or The Clash's London Calling). While some acts face the challenge by letting loose with experimentation, others stick to their fan-tested formulas. LCD Soundsytem takes the latter approach on its latest album of post-disco pop tunes, This Is Happening, with varying results.
Band leader James Murphy ushers us slowly into the record with the pattering percussion of "Dance Yrself Clean." Unlike LCD's previous two outings, Happening doesn't deliver a dance beat until three minutes in, and it's a slow-moving one at that. The track feels stuck in an underwhelming mid-tempo limbo, and is followed by what's easily the worst LCD Soundsystem song yet, Happening's first single "Drunk Girls." The track sounds like a contractual obligation to write a "single," its chanted hook coming off as brainless, which isn't Murphy's usual style. From there, things can only move upwards, and they do in classic LCD manner with dancefloor burners "One Touch" and "Pow Pow." Murphy's lighthearted side is also evidenced in full by "All I Want" and "Change," which show him getting sappy and melodic while singing about pursuing love and a fulfilling life.
This Is Happening has its lyrical and musical ups and downs, much like the albums that came before it. In fact, one could draw parallels with almost every song in the new tracklist and those of LCD Soundsystem's past records. The way Murphy arranged the instrumentation of "Drunk Girls" is painfully similar to his past singles "Daft Punk is Playing at My House" and "North American Scum." "All I Want" trades out the endless piano loop of "All My Friends" for a guitar riff, and "Pow Pow"--with its deadpan, nonsensical rant--might as well be called "Losing My Edge Part 2."
Despite the blatant similarities, though, most of the music is still inherently likeable. The 'stick it to the man' anthem of "You Wanted a Hit" and the hopeful album closer "Home" show Murphy introducing fresh themes and styles to his standard palette of snarky party music and poignant ballads. This Is Happening won't move LCD Soundsystem into the halls of greatness, but it won't drag them out of the doorway either.
Follow us @SFAllShookDown.