Usually this space is reserved for the dissection of a song that has established itself as a classic and has stood the test of time. We’ve only had a couple months to digest the latest offering from LCD Soundsystem, but “American Dream” instantly possessed the feel of a song worthy of a deep dive into its intricacies and wonders.
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“American Dream” is the title track of a new album from James Murphy’s critically-acclaimed collective, an album that is a surprise in itself considering that band had supposedly called it quits following a 2011 farewell concert. It’s a welcome return, however, and this track makes clear that Murphy has lost none of his ability to pinpoint and elucidate middle-aged malaise.
Whereas LCD Soundsystem has often in the past married this feeling to fearless dance beats, “American Dream” lays back into a languid, synth-doo-wop groove. Murphy’s vocals on the song are some of his most emotive, as if he’s been listening to a lot of Disintegration-era Cure in his time away from the band. The setting allows the unraveling of the song’s protagonist to take place in agonizing slow motion, leaving him no place to hide.
Murphy plays the role of omniscient narrator in the song, viewing his subject with a combination of knowing concern and muted wonder. The title of the song is more than a little ironic, since this morning-after piecing together of what happened the night before is far removed from what the phrase “American Dream” suggests. And that seems to be Murphy’s point here, that it’s easy to become hopelessly unmoored from both where you began and where you wanted to head.
The song’s anti-hero clearly had noble intentions of the previous evening: “Oh, the revolution was here/ That would set you free from the bourgeoisie.” But harsh reality rises with the sun: “In the morning everything’s clearer/ When the sunlight exposes your age.” Murphy, like a true pal, cuts to the chase with his analysis at times: “You just suck at self-preservation.”
At times, there is sympathy in the way he sees how loneliness will attach itself to this wayward soul more and more as time passes: “And you couldn’t know he was leaving/ But more will go with age, you know.” But he pours ice water on any self-pity in which this character might want to wallow: “So get up and stop you’re complaining/ You know that you’re the only one who’s been destroying all the fun.”
The final verse wraps up with a flurry of observations about the various emotions and sensations enveloping the protagonist. Murphy understands this poor sap’s attempts to silence the hunger for true love by indulging in empty lust as something like an addiction: “It’s a drug of the heart and you can’t stop the shaking/ ’Cause the body wants what it’s terrible at taking/ And you can’t remember the meaning/ But there’s no going back against this California feeling.”
“American Dream” closes out with the title phrase repeated by Murphy in a distant voice, as if it’s receding further from grasp each time the words are spoken. This new killer from LCD Soundsystem feels like one to which we’ll look back many years from now with acclaim and respect. As for right now, all we can do is look ahead to what this band has in store for us in the near future.