I’ve never really been sure whether the word “edgy” is supposed to be a compliment. In my experience, it’s usually meant to be quite contemptuous, or in the very least alienating – edgy people hang out in edgy places, and do edgy things with their edgy mates. And of course, edgy people listen to edgy music. I’m not edgy, I don’t think. Although I imagine that even if I were, I probably wouldn’t say that I was. There’s nothing edgy about someone who think they’re edgy…
I’m not even really sure I’d want to be. I mean, there’s a certain appeal – the cool clothes, the trendy bars, the quirky conversations – but at the heart of the concept there’s this sense of disconnection. You’re on the edge – the periphery –away from all the other people. Maybe that’s why it rarely appears to be a compliment.
All of this leads me to conclude that edgy music is a bit of a problem. Again, few bands would ever label themselves edgy; most have edginess thrust upon them. Nonetheless, how can a global audience connect with something that’s edgy? If a song, band, or genre solely exists on the periphery, how can it connect with the majority of us in the centre, enthusiastically bobbing along to Taylor Swift?
When LCD Soundsystem, or perhaps more accurately frontman Jamie Murphy, wrote the groups’ breakthrough single Losing My Edge in 2005, his train of thought wasn’t too far removed from mine. During his DJing career, Murphy realised he was starting to become hot-property – people were booking him for their venues on the basis that the stuff he was producing was pretty damn cool. He described his newfound coolness as an anomaly, and wrote the track in a sort of self-aware panic – his popularity was changing him, which was scary, but the fear of losing it was even greater.
It’s a story dripping in irony – the release propelled LCD to the forefront of contemporary dance-rock innovation. Murphy had taken his talents as a producer and a DJ, and mashed it together with an encyclopaedic knowledge of post-punk song construction to produce a sound that was truly unique. And then of course there was his singing voice – or lack thereof – which minced on top of each track with nonchalant whimsy. It was all pretty fucking edgy.
Fast foreword to 2010, and LCD dropped This Is Happening – their third studio album. Over the course of the five years that had passed since their debut, Murphy had solidified the band as one of America’s foremost musical innovators and, as far as some were concerned, LCD’s “edge” was firmly in tact. Yet – and this is where I finally begin to reach my point – This Is Happening stands in opposition to everything this article has come to assume about edgy music. For all the musical innovation, ingenuity, and originality that Murphy crams into this album, it never feels detached. The songs he’s writing aren’t addressed to the periphery – this is music for people, by people, and most importantly: about people.
Now I have to stress – this album does have some fairly abstract moments lyrically. And perhaps now, having listened through countless times, I’ve managed to digest and translate some of them. But nonetheless at the core of Murphy’s songs is a message that’s deeply accessible. We open with Dance Yourself Clean, heavy with musical anticipation as Murphy laments the drama of the big night out – the unspoken anger and disjointed emotion from which we all distract ourselves with dancing. It’s all rather familiar, isn’t it? It’s not an isolated example: I Can Change – probably the album’s biggest hit - tells the story of a man losing a hold on his relationship, and the anxiety and self-doubt that consume him as a result. And what about album-closer Home? Fear of losing someone morphs into fear of losing yourself amongst the superficial revelry of your early 20s. As a set of individual tracks, This Is Happening tells a collection of familiar stories. As a combined piece, it spins a narrative of internal torment that hits even closer to home.
At the time, this was widely thought to be the group’s final project, and in a way it would have been the perfect send off. It may be accidental, I prefer to think otherwise, but in a funny sort of way this entire album pays homage to the core message of Losing My Edge, all the way back in 2005. 5 years on, and Murphy is still grappling with those same emotions – he’s still afraid of losing sight of who he was.
So, in light of all this, are LCD Soundsystem an edgy band?
I don’t think that’s for me to decide, but it’s a label I’d probably shy away from. Murphy may be at the forefront of innovation with his music, but throughout his career – and in particular with this album – he has strived for a message that resonates with the masses. And that’s so important, because something this great deserves to be accessible to anyone who wants to listen.