Treble 100, No. 52: LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

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lcd soundsystem sound of silver

Empires are built off the backs of a lot of corpses, and LCD Soundsystem is no different.

When James Murphy stepped out from behind his console, the refrain of the initial song that got most people’s attention suggested he was losing his edge. Anyone who heard the percussion driven electronic music knew that wasn’t the case and anyone who heard the lyrics from Internet seekers to former labelmates knew they were the words of an insider who no longer felt the need to bite his tongue. There was a reason he kept mockingly repeating “You don’t know what you really want!” at the end; you didn’t—he did. He was there.

And after a quick detour to rob Nike so he could do a Göttsching impersonation, he and LCD Soundsystem were here again with their sophomore album Sound of Silver. Sophomore albums are always some of the most perilous works in discographies, but LCD managed to not only easily dodge that curse—they put together one of the best albums of the aughts.

Akin to Joe Strummer and Chuck D before him, Murphy’s relatively late ascension into frontman/star status meant that his mindset came from a place of wisdom rarely popular in pop music, and you can see this thread interwoven throughout the album. Here even more so than on their debut, the bulk of his lyrics talk about living out Chris Rock’s joke of being The Old Man At The Club but do so from a sense of wryness; the constant sense of attraction and repulsion of being too old for the scene but intermittently loving and hating it anyways because what else are you going to do, get a real job?

By the time Silver got released (in full, by the way) on their MySpace site, LCD seemed to be the last band standing by default in their world. The dot com boom that ended the previous decade gave way to the explosions of 9/11 and the bubble bursting, and similarly while megahyped NYC bands like the Strokes and their legions of Xeroxes were fading into irrelevance, LCD was making some of the best work of their career that saw them get accolade after accolade for music that still retains its sonic impact 15-plus years later.

Murphy’s Nike work featured an instrumental version of what would become one of the signature songs on the album, “Someone Great.” It’s a eulogy that sounds like a breakup letter, long suspected to be about his longtime therapist who’s passing caused him to become a bit unmoored during the making of Silver. Murphy honors the memory while being rocked by the loss, noting the lovely weather and perfect coffee by contrast to his numb despair. Silver’s lasting legacy is largely built off of similar work throughout, and despite volleyballing between club parties and quiet, reflective moments what raises all the tides on it is Murphy’s commitment to detail and catching the things most don’t to make something specific for him communal to millions.

“Great” is one of the tentpole songs in the center of the album which features a consecutive four song run that could shame any similar quartet from the decade, starting with “North American Scum” before it and followed by “All My Friends” as well as “Us v Them.” The songs’ subject matter varies wildly: gleeful snark, shellshocked loss, wistful defiance, tetchy tribalism. But what ties them together isn’t just the fact that they all feel like separate diary entries from Murphy’s past or then present; it’s the fact that Murphy forthrightly talked about all the weird adult feelings most pop music doesn’t talk about, further thrown into stark relief at a time where “Fergalicious” and “This Is Why I’m Hot” were chart toppers.

Akin to “Great,” the rest of Silver, and arguably LCD’s entire discography is some form of inter-wrapped compulsions and revulsions, with the other three songs in the mighty quartet providing just a sliver of different ways it can occur. “Scum” is partially about LCD traveling the world but more about the world’s reaction to them—being a proud NYC liberal during the Cheney Administration was its own Us v. Them situation, and Murphy mines it for laughs with a party rocking beat and singalong chorus in direct contrast to the closer. “Friends” is one of, if not the best song of the decade, but the contrast there is focused more inwardly, built around the moments of knowing better and partying instead, wondering alternately how you can be having so much fun while grinding through conversations and where your confidantes are at such a bifurcated moment of fulfillment and emptiness.  And “Them” is their version of “(Nothing But) Flowers” filtered through myriad basements and converted warehouses: if rock n’ roll is paradise, then what they need is a disco lawnmower, not another grinding conversation with someone who’s gotten smoke blown up their ass for being good, smart and clever.

That’s what Murphy meant by silver when he was putting the album together, as he felt that their debut was a little beige and safe—the studio got baptized in silver to remind him of all the “shiny music” he wanted to imbue it with underscored in glam rock and disco. The title track is really just the same three sentences repeated over and over and over again, but even that starkness is a contrast to the music, which gets increasingly more propulsive as the song starts almost coming off as a lecture but by the end is a fuzzy dance floor filler. The song isn’t the last one on the album, but it’s the last one to carry the overarching themes on Silver.   

The album closer that follows it is “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Murphy could’ve stopped after the title but the resultant song is the best takedown of Mike Bloomberg this side of Elizabeth Warren; as someone who found themselves in the club scene that got gutted by his policies in a borough that would soon become just as gentrified as Times Square, Murphy has a unique perspective to what culture loses when money comes in…but yet again, the pushmi-pullyu isn’t only found here, it comes in consecutive lines that are two of the album’s best: “Like a death of the heart / Jesus, where do I start? / But you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown.” The album ends with a big sweeping arc and Murphy insisting that he’s right, which encapsulates LCD perfectly and could actually double as a quick synopsis on how the Soundsystem even came to be built in the first place (while technically a band, LCDS serves mostly as Murphy’s discofied dictatorship with some boosts from members of his inner circle). 

LCD did what bands did after this: a little more music, a breakup, a reunion, movie soundtrack one offs, sporadic albums, residencies, etc. But Silver ensured that LCD Soundsystem wouldn’t go down in the crates as a curio—for fellow audiophiles, no matter how many times you wonder where your friends are tonight or think you want to go back to being a teenager again before you really think about it, Silver lets you revel in your adult goofiness at a small psychic toll; unlike most of adulthood that follows a similar premise, you can dance to this sometimes. Far before the internet celebrated cringe, James Murphy put himself on trial and declared the verdict was guilty of loving his influences too much, so he let himself walk with time served in the form of nearly an hour of introspection that was of its time but grows increasingly timeless by the year. After taking a victory lap and a small break, Murphy returned to his new dance floor: the studio. After all, he had to make more music for his fans to shuffle to and for his critics to gnash over.

As a wise man once said, it’s us and them—over and over and over again.

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