On “Call the Police,” LCD Soundsystem Are Just as Confused as the Rest of Us
Maybe it’s the lack of melody that robs the motto of some of its intended effect, or the fact that Neil Young already said it best. But when James Murphy repeats “We all know this is nothing” and “nowhere” on LCD Soundsystem’s first comeback single, “Call the Police,” the absence of his characteristically wry point of view is conspicuous. Most of us already think similar things every time we open our social media accounts to check in on the daily news, and perhaps we don’t need someone, in 2017, to wail it at us through a grainy, Julian-Casablancas-ified mic.
For the first, relatively dynamics-less half of the song, it’s easy to wonder where he’s going as he sings about viruses under our proverbial skin and “getting stupid in the heat.” (Literal or metaphorical heat? It’s going to kill us either way, it seems.). “Call the Police” has the two-chord, undulating appeal of every LCD Soundsystem song you’ve ever liked, but adds some sparse, familiar-sounding guitar arpeggios for some kind of new resonance. When Murphy’s voice reaches tenuously to the heavens on apparent chorus “And we don’t waste time with love,” the U2 comparisons become clearer; his distorted croon recalls Achtung Baby more than “North American Scum.” There’s the feeling, even as it reaches its knotty climax of guitars and shrieks (“Yeah, call the police/You’re crazy, man…They’re gonna eat the rich”), that this is a knee jerk Murphy rant committed quickly to tape: unchiseled, visceral, pissed at everything and nothing just like you.
Perhaps that’s exactly what a good LCD Soundsystem fan—the kind who wasn’t alienated by the fake-out breakup and festival date schedule—wants right now. Maybe, more generally, it’s just the best we can hope for from our designated musical spokespeople in disheartened, entropic times. Murphy transforms “Call the Police” in the most explicitly political song in his band’s catalogue as the track percolates past the four-minute mark. “Well, there’s a full-blown rebellion but you’re easy to confuse / By triggered kids and fakers and some questionable views,” he volunteers. The rhyme scheme continues: “When oh, we all start arguing the history of the Jews / You got nothing left to lose / Gives me the blues.” On paper, this verse might be a comical misfire, but Murphy’s demented coo signals that he understands the humor of the obvious rhymes and the abrupt zoom-in. The articulation is only as ridiculous as the dystopian reality. One kind of wishes he’d pulled out all the stops and worked “fake news” into it; this is no time for subtlety.
Yes, LCD Soundsystem have released a song that’s explicitly topical for the Trump era. But while the musical conflagration the song builds toward feels redemptive, “Call the Police” is just confused enough to counter the argument that art sharpens in times of sociopolitical tumult. It was easy to feel something from pseudo-“Heroes”-y LCD jams like this when Murphy’s ennui and angst was more equal-opportunity—back when he was fuming about dilettantes at parties and record stores that obliquely represented what was wrong with society, instead trying to stick it directly to society. The epic scale of the music felt cleverly oversized when pitted against Murphy’s petty, sometimes claustrophobic scenes. It’s hard to not want that guy at the party, and the party itself, over the brooding, Donnie-Darko-soundtrack backbeat and the troll-shaming. It’s even harder to not want to revisit that time in American hipsterdom when that type of snarkiness still felt commensurate with the times.