JAMES MURPHY has dropped a few hints that This Is Happening might be the very last LCD Soundsystem album. But I feel almost certain that it won't be. Murphy, the sole architect of LCD Soundsystem, is still too much in love with his own grooves—every song on This Is Happening is roughly twice as long as it needs to be—and while his ideas may be overextended, the fact is that Murphy has gotten to be very good at something people really like him to be good at. There's nothing like a little ego gratification to keep a successful career in high gear.
Overlong songs aside, This Is Happening might—incredibly—be the best LCD Soundsystem album yet. No small feat, considering the competition is 2005's self-titled debut and 2007's earth-shattering Sound of Silver. No, there isn't a song as good as Silver's epic highlight "All My Friends," but Happening's track list is pretty close to batting a thousand. It starts off mutedly with "Dance Yrself Clean," a simple patter that explodes after a couple minutes with an enormously fat synth, hogging the mix and burying Murphy's screams. Nearly all of This Is Happening has similarly off-kilter mixes; the instruments don't do what you expect, volumes are too soft or too loud. Nothing sits comfortably, but everything is designed—in an almost Machiavellian way—to get the body moving.
"Drunk Girls" is the song that shouldn't work, a loutish anthem to the faceless, anonymous young ladies that populate the club circuit. But in spite of itself, it's a marvelous anthem, a mirror image to Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging," with lines like "drunk girls wait an hour to pee" achieving a weird sort of compassion. "Pow Pow" is a dizzying disco floor filler, marshaled by the razor's edge of a rapid-swish hi-hat; "All I Want" is an autumnal space-rocker, with Frippertronic-like guitars buzzing like hummingbirds. Meanwhile, "I Can Change" is the record's gravitational center, a morning-after ode of regret. Over a pulsing, bubble-wrap backing, Murphy beseeches: "I can change, I can change, I can change if it helps you fall in love." But we know perfectly well that he won't, nor do we want him to.