Last night, I sat in the Sydney Opera House and watched LCD Soundsystem’s funeral on a big screen. Towards the end of Shut Up And Play The Hits, a documentary about the last 48 hours of main man James Murphy‘s life as a frontman, there’s a cut to a scene from the band’s Madison Square Concert final concert. A teenage kid is watching LCD Soundsystem perform ‘Someone Great’, and he is bawling his eyes out. He can’t be older than sixteen, maybe eighteen tops, which means there’s little to no chance that he has that same connection to the band that we all think we do. When ‘Losing My Edge’ dropped, he was in primary school. And yet, there he is. Tears streaming down his face, sniffling snot as those pulsating synths open what is perhaps my favourite song from the Brooklyn outfit’s canon, but at this point it’s hard to tell because they’re all good. Everyone in the makeshift theatre suddenly bursts out laughing at the sight of the kid, who cameos at least three more times, including the closing shot. But as the credits roll and the truth dawns, it becomes a bit more obvious. As LCD fans, we are all, in some way, that distraught teenager.
In my entire life as a music writer and appreciator, there are actually only a handful of bands that I can recall ever ending. As Stephen Colbert correctly points out in the film, there are only three ways to bow out of the rock n’ roll world; overdose, overstay your welcome, or write ‘Spider-Man: The Musical’. The notion that bands – particularly contemporary ones – have tangible lifespans, is a scary one. After all, don’t we live in the generation of famous geriatrics? The Rolling Stones are powering on, Earth Wind & Fire keep the funk alive and Elton John isn’t going anywhere soon. And yet, in this country in the last five years alone we’ve had Red Riders, Powderfinger and Silverchair, among others, call it quits relatively acrimoniously. Despite Murphy’s age, a point which journalist Chuck Klosterman makes continued reference to as a framing device, LCD Soundsystem could not have been designed to die, right? I mean, they’re the band who taught dance kids how to like punk music, turned rockers into ravers and were phenomenally, stupidly smart writers. One of the big secrets Murphy refuses to reveal in the film is how he manages to craft complex music that sounds so effortlessly simple. I really wanted to know how he knows why one hook will resonate more than another. I really wanted to know how he wrote ‘Someone Great.’
Though party-starters to the end, LCD Soundsystem will be remembered, primarily, for their stunning torch ballads. There are plenty to choose from on 2007’s impeccable Sound Of Silver, including ‘All My Friends’ and the bombastic ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’. But time and time again, the one that brings me closer in line with that snot-nosed, hysterical New Yorker at Madison Square Garden is ‘Someone Great.’ I’m not sure what it is. It could be that tremendous, wave-crashing synth bass line that lopes in like a mourner, or the little bleeping R2D2 treble samples that bubble over the top. Or perhaps it’s the clean and heartfelt melody, flanked only by a glockenspiel that descends through Murphy’s register. Perhaps it’s those oblique but touching lyrics, typically open-ended, because it’s everyone’s party, even when that party’s ending “The worst is all the lovely weather/I’m stunned, it’s not raining/The coffee isn’t even bitter/Because, what’s the difference?” It’s just that yearning, yawning chasm of nothing that we all feel from time to time perfectly encapsulated in song. It plods on like the sands of time, returning to a verse continually like a Bob Dylan yarn before that beautiful set of twin codas. The first goes down ‘And it keeps coming’ and the second rises up ‘When someone great is gone’, providing a wonky, yet perfect symmetry to a piece of music that is quite near to perfect. It’s a downer that is strangely uplifting, the kind of which could only come from one man and his band.
I’ll miss you, LCD Soundsystem.
LCD Soundsystem – ‘Someone Great’