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James Murphy – Greenberg

on March 23, 2010, 8:00am

You may have noticed the banners that CoS has been frequently fraught with about a little film called Greenberg. It’s for a good reason. This one looks to be promising. A film directed by Noah Baumbach with the tirelessly funny Ben Stiller cast as the lead role, multiplied by 12 original songs written by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and an incredible trailer set over LCD’s “All My Friends” is a recipe for success, no matter how you look at it. Baumbach is Academy Award nominated, and Wes Anderson approved; Stiller remains one of the funniest men in film (see: There’s Something About Mary, Zoolander, The Royal Tenenbaums, Meet The Parents, his presentation of the award for Best Makeup at this year’s Oscars, etc.); and Murphy seems to be capable of nothing less that awesome. But we aren’t here to talk about the film or the concept behind it. Let’s talk soundtrack.

As mentioned, thesoundtrack for Greenberg brings 12 new James Murphy tracks to the table, 11 under his given name, 1 under the LCD Soundsystem moniker. But be forewarned LCD fans, this is not your average Soundsystem sound. Far from it, in fact. While there are certainly moments where Murphy’s DFA tendencies shine through, he sticks to a newer, more subdued sound. His original compositions are interspersed with five or six tracks (depending on your source) from other artists. Most come from the 70’s/80’s, like the tracks by Galaxie 500, Duran Duran, and Stroke dad Albert Hammond. In an interview with Pitchfork, Murphy said “The goal was to make my songs sound seamless with the old songs also used in the movie,” and he stays fairly true to that. He sticks especially close to the Duran Duran track “Chauffer” and the Albert Hammond ditty “It Never Rains In Southern California”.

Four of the 11 songs are sans lyrics, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. Those tracks are as interesting as those with vocals, for they boast the same interesting shift in artistic direction Murphy has decided to cling to for his first soundtracking gig. He creates a few extremely memorable, subtle tracks that may just win your heart. “Photographs” is a beautiful acoustic arrangement that unfolds a love story, and is probably the most impressive track from the compilation. But heavy hitters “Plenty Of Time” and  the Elliott Smith reminiscent “Birthday Song” will have no problem making your weekly playlists. Might he incorporate any of these solo tracks into his upcoming live LCD shows? While most are a deviation from his usual, there are certainly some that would fit the bill, especially the low-key “People” in which he showcases a talent in falsetto soul singing, and the simple, yet sweet “Please Don’t Follow Me”. Only time will tell.

It is interesting to note that this comes at a time that seems very busy for Murphy. Why would he choose now to work on a soundtrack? He’s working on mastering his third effort with LCD Soundsystem in preparation for its May due date, and he’s beginning to unveil a slew of live dates, including appearances at just about every festival you’ve heard of. One thing’s for sure, Murphy’s a busy man, indeed.

It is tough to analyze a film’s soundtrack without ever having seen the film, but if I wasn’t excited about seeing Greenberg before listening to the soundtrack (I was), I certainly am now. A solid soundtrack can make or break a film, especially one of the independent dramedy genre, and it will be interesting to see how Murphy fits into the film. Thus far it’s only been released in New York and L.A., neither of which are my cities, so I have not yet had the opportunity to see it. But as it makes its limited release is this Friday, the 26th, believe you me, I’ll be first in line.

And although this soundtrack as a whole won’t be one for your regular rotation, the Murphy tracks very well might be. Either way, it is interesting to analyze. James Murphy showcases his versatility as a songwriter. He proves on Greenberg that he is not a one-trick pony, and that he’s got tricks a-plenty up his sleeve. And while he was probably born to raise Hell in the Dance-Punk realm, this just goes to show that he could always moonlight in writing incredible film soundtracks. This one’s got a few gems and you should certainly check it out.

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