Can they miss you even if you never really left? Six years after bidding their final farewell in a bittersweet, balloon-strewn blowout at Madison Square Garden, New York’s reigning dance-punk heroes have officially returned. Less officially, they’d already begun tiptoeing out again as early as 2015, releasing a one-off Christmas single before announcing a grander and more unequivocal comeback: There would be 2016 headlining gigs at Coachella and Lollapalooza, and a new studio album to follow.
Given show business’s long, starry history of unretirements, the LCD revival might hardly register as news to some; get in line behind JAY-Z, Cher, and Steven Soderbergh, kids. But as gratifyingly familiar as much of American Dream will be to longtime fans, it also feels like exactly the album 2017 needs — urgent, angry, achingly self-aware. And catchy as hell, too: Sparse opener “oh baby” blooms into a gorgeous skybox lullaby; “other voices” revels in skittering subwoofer funk; “how do you sleep?” builds a sonic thunderdome out of percussion and synths; “tonite” is a squiggly Daft Punk-style electro kick. (The titles are deliberately lowercase, even if the towering production is not.)
As easy as it would be to bury subtext on the dance floor, frontman James Murphy’s shrewdly lacerating lyrics still mark him as a man apart. LCD’s usual touchstones are everywhere: love, loneliness, the bottomless quagmire of what constitutes cool. There’s a new immediacy, though, to his meditations on mortality. The specters of aging and oblivion loom large on nearly every track, whether he’s glancing back at all the sex, drugs, and disco in the rearview mirror or gazing frankly from early middle age into the abyss. “You got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete / And you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat,” Murphy laments on the clanging call-and-response “emotional haircut” (because what goes better with existential terror than more cowbell?). Still, he can make mere survival feel like a celebration: The dream wasn’t dead, it turns out, just delayed. So put American on, blow out the speakers, and dance yourself clean. A-