For the most part, I’ve got almost no need for live albums. Sure, I loved the White Stripes’ offering from the Great White North, and Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night has a special place in the cockles of my heart, but most live albums leave me feeling one of two ways: 1) Commenting how great the LP sounds, but how much I’d rather hear the artist/band with all the tools in their bag courtesy of studio time or 2) that if I wanted to feel the true impact of live songs, I’d just wait ’til they came to town. Amongst other notions I previously held, LCD Soundsystem have done away with that archaic look at the live album with The London Sessions.
Unlike a lot of live albums, this one isn’t being pulled from some raucous live show in Dusseldorf, DE; instead, the nine tracks were done a la the Peel sessions and played live in an intimate studio setting with James Murphy and his rowdy cast of music-making friends, unfurling the magic bit by bit in a carefully-guarded setting. Those expecting a truly live experience (as I had hoped during the release’s initial announcement) won’t be disappointed, though. The electronic-heavy band has taken a risk, but not one to leave them sounding flat. The choice to stick with this particular setting allows them to shine as a cohesive unit and demonstrate to listeners the process that is LCD Soundsystem and the layering and effort that goes in. While the primal energy of a live crowd would be nice, this live album is for the true audiophile that resides in all of us (and in their parents’ attic). The only complaint regarding the nine tracks is the choice in actual tracks. Consisting of four tracks from their most recent LP, it breaks the heart ever so slightly that they didn’t choose “Losing My Edge” or “Sound of Silver”. The cuts they did pick, however, more than make up for your your most beloved song not making the final list.
Murphy himself comes across as even stronger in this recording. Known for his acerbic wit and oddball, David Byrne-esque delivery style, he becomes more accessible in an already defeated-sounding track like “I Can Change”, where his voice seems particularly less cool and more damaged, coy, and vulnerable, all while keeping intact that punk ethos and dry humor he’s already mastered. If there’s anything that fans can expect, it’s a softening of that electro-wax job their songs have always exuded. On This Is Happening, “Pow Pow” is almost sexy, where a pulsing vibe makes it actually come off as a legit club hit overflowing with a low-key, borderline sultry energy. Here, though, the song comes off less polished but just as alluring, capable of bringing down any discotheque. It’s a rare example of why I find live albums to have any need at all: It strikes close enough to the glamor that made the original while showing a dirtier, more organic side. Even tracks like “Drunk Girls” and “Yr City’s a Sucker” find new life. While not quite examples of different sides of the same coin, both tracks demonstrate to even non-fans the appeal of LCD Soundsystem: quirks and eccentricities abound in the vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation and that all that stems from a kind of energy, something that dies a little in the transfer to carefully-constructed studio versions.
LCD Soundsystem fans will eat this up no matter what, as the group’s infectious dance-punk pulls at your most primordial instincts to get drunk and move and shake like no other group can. If you’re like me, though, this live studio album will be enough to make you re-think the live concept revolving solely around Mr. Diamond. And that’s something worth dancing to.