As one of the most influential electronic bands of the 2000s, LCD Soundsystem quickly gained a cult following for their energetic live performances and their classic blend of punk, rock and dance music. Bolstered by the release of their self-titled debut album in 2005, the group’s founder and songwriter, James Murphy, garnered critical acclaim for putting a totally fresh spin on dance music with a sound that blended punk, rave, funk and disco, all wrapped up in an infectious energy that resonated with audiences around the world. Here, then, is the full story of what inspired LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album, and how it put them on the map for popularising dance-punk at the turn of the 21st century.
Forming LCD Soundsystem: “My career as a frontman was accidental”
As the co-founder of independent label DFA Records with Tim Goldsworthy, James Murphy was no stranger to New York City’s Lower East Side “in crowd” of the early 2000s, though he never quite felt like he was one of the cool kids. A jaded DJ and producer in his early 30s, Murphy had spent years showcasing his wildly eclectic music tastes at dance clubs, dropping obscure German electronic records and disco-funk curios during the birth pangs of the “New Rock Revival” era. With a new generation of internet-savvy hipsters beginning to question his vinyl-pilfering credentials, Murphy feared that he was on the brink of becoming passé.
After spending years vainly trying to get various bands of his own off the ground, the success of DFA labelmates The Rapture and garage-rock revivalists The Strokes spurred Murphy on to get his act together. Aiming to combine his twin loves of punk-rock and house music, Murphy founded LCD Soundsystem in 2001 and holed himself up in the studio to create songs that were intended to stave off the rising tide of obsolescence. “My career as a frontman was accidental,” he stated in Lizzy Goodman’s oral history Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011. Dropping the 12” single of Losing My Edge/Beat Connection in July 2002, Murphy channelled his world-weary cynicism into a masterful character study of music snobbery (“I’m losing my edge to the internet seekers,” Murphy talk-sings, “who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978”).
Capturing a fear many people of a certain age could relate to, the song skewered the curmudgeonly tendencies of music geeks. “To me, Losing My Edge was the perfect narrative song that could have ever come from me,” Murphy confessed to The Guardian in a 2010 interview. Drawing upon punk and post-punk disco to create a self-aware send-up of ageing music obsessives such as himself, Losing My Edge gave listeners a tantalising hint at what the best LCD Soundsystem songs would have in store. In fact, it was so pivotal to the LCD Soundsystem story that it would later be included as the lead-off track on a bonus disc that complemented their self-titled debut album.
The release: “Sometimes really dumb lyrics are great”
It would be three years before LCD Soundsystem’s debut album would rear its head, with its similarly provocative lead single, Movement, eventually capitalising on the zeitgeist-capturing Losing My Edge. Released in November 2004, Movement saw Murphy merging vocal tics resembling Mark E Smith of The Fall with an unwieldy electro-rock guitar hook, playfully addressing the vacuous bubble occupied by all the skinny-jeans-wearing indie-rockers who had popped up after The Strokes were proclaimed by NME to be “the next big thing”. “That’s mostly about the ‘new rock’,” Murphy explained, “which is a movement without the bother of having any meaning.”
Despite being released two years after the success of Losing My Edge, Movement peaked at No.52 in the UK, perfectly setting the scene for LCD Soundsystem’s debut album. What set Murphy apart wasn’t just his genre-blending mélange of electronic dance music and the spirit of punk-rock, but also his magpie-like propensity for smuggling eclectic musical reference points into his songs. Most refreshing of all was the satirical relish he sprinkled over his wordplay, gleefully elevating world-weary social commentary and a wry sense of humour. “I think that sometimes complicated story lyrics are horrible,” Murphy told Zan Rowe on Double J radio in 2005, “and sometimes really dumb lyrics are great.”
Having now whet club-goers’ appetites for LCD Soundsystem’s unique take on dance-punk, spearheaded by Murphy’s needle-point lyricism, the group’s self-titled debut album finally saw the light of day on 24 January 2005, entering the UK albums chart at No.20. Across a collection of nine songs which stretched Murphy’s journalistic eye for detail to breaking point, the album was no doubt helped by the success of its second single, Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, which peaked at No.29 in the UK. Released a month after its parent album, the song was instantly embraced as an indie disco anthem, telling the hilarious story of a wannabe house-party enthusiast trying to convince friends that the iconic French DJs are playing a show in his basement.
The impact: “It’s just so absurd that it’s funny. It’s like watching a surreal movie about yourself”
Fusing James Murphy’s techno-baiting ambitions with the DIY attitude of punk, Daft Punk Is Playing At My House became LCD Soundsystem’s biggest commercial success yet, and the song eventually went on to win a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Dance Recording. After years of hard graft, it was a moment of vindication for Murphy, who was now being plastered on magazine covers and vaunted as the saviour of alternative dance music. “It’s very surprising. I think it’s hilarious,” he said in an interview with ireallylovemusic.co.uk. “If I was younger I think a) It might go to my head, and b) I’d be a lot more grumpy about it but now, it’s just so absurd that it’s funny. It’s like watching a surreal movie about yourself.”
There is much to be found on LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album beyond its most recognisable hit. From reflecting on getting older over a 90s house-flavoured drum pattern (Too Much Love) to dabbling in Beatles-esque psychedelic balladry (Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up), it’s clear that, for all of his self-referential antics, Murphy took his songwriting extremely seriously. Whether he’s putting his own spin on Timbaland-style beats (Thrills) or slowing things right down with the simmering album closer (Great Release), it was quite evident that LCD Soundsystem’s debut had been years in the making, and that, despite his anxieties about being supplanted by younger upstarts, Murphy had emerged triumphant as a scene-setter in his own right.
Eager to keep the momentum going, Murphy released Disco Infiltrator as the album’s third single, in June 2005. Emulating the frenetic art-funk yelps of James Chance And The Contortions, the song brilliantly samples Kraftwerk’s 1981 track Home Computer and is propelled by bubbling synths and lashings of cowbells. Climbing to No.49 in the UK, it solidified LCD Soundsystem’s newfound standing as leading purveyors of disco-punk, with a typically self-deprecating refrain (“Bear in mind, we all fall behind, from time to time”).
The legacy: “If I make the record I’m proud of, I don’t care about the rest of it”
In September 2005, Tribulations became the fourth and final single to be released from LCD Soundsystem’s debut album, and it hinted that that James Murphy was growing increasingly pop-savvy. “I wrote that as kind of a laugh,” he told MusicOMH. “I remember trying to explain to my friend how easy it is to write pop songs. I was like, ‘Well, watch,’ and I wrote it and just made it up.” With a catchy vocal hook (“Everybody makes mistakes/But I feel alright when I come undone”), the song offered a wizened slice of wisdom over an electro-house groove that proved LCD Soundsystem were at the top of their game.
By turning in a debut album that would go on to sell over 150,000 copies in the US and garner itself a nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards, James Murphy was pleased that his punk-inspired work ethic had finally paid off. “I think I’m lucky,” he told Drowned In Sound. “If I make the record I’m proud of, I don’t care about the rest of it.”
Without a doubt, LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album proved to be a game-changing debut, nudging garage-rock acts such as The Strokes aside to push disco-punk to the forefront of the indie scene. Once upon a time, James Murphy might have feared losing his edge, but within the space of a few years he had proved that his musical instincts were sharper than ever.
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