Number one. Everywhere, just about. You have to say that the man has a certain sureness of touch. Hip enough not to be quite mainstream, rock enough not to be quite pop. The knowing nods — to Depeche Mode, Eno, 1970s post-punk and 1980s grandiosity and always, always, Bowie.
Fifteen years on from James Murphy’s first excursion in these clothes and the man from New Jersey, now grizzled and greying, has come up with an album as good as any he’s made — which is a qualified nod of admiration: I often find his tunes too eager to please, the neatly corralled stabs of funk a little forced. Murphy always wants to have his cake and eat it, get the dance crowd in and the indie kids too. You have to say that, commercially, this formula works. But it is a very arch balancing act.
American Dream — you just know that title isn’t going to be one of exultation — is fashionably morose, full of self-reproach. There are whiffs of the Bunnymen here and there and, as the melodies swarm upwards and power chords come in, even (Christ help us) Simple Minds. But, leaving the lyrics — banal, inchoate, self-pitying — aside, there are some very fine moments. Few people can tweak their little synthesisers to such effect. ‘I Used To’ is ominous, thudding, electro-rock with a crisp, mesmerising drumbeat. ‘Oh Baby’ — fiendishly cleverly constructed — sounds a bit like Yazoo covering Suicide. The best is last — the 12-minute minimalist throb of ‘Black Screen’, where at last the listener is invited to wait a while, to immerse themselves, before the pay-off. If only he had the confidence, or the lack of concern, to do that more often.
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