I’m not a musician, so have always found music criticism - actual criticism - a torturous thing. What right do I have to find fault in someone’s work when I can play five songs on the guitar, and one of those five is ‘Achy Breaky Heart’? Exactly. Fuck all.
This relative lack of technical knowledge means my appreciation for a song is often rooted in superfluous things like ‘how it makes me feel’, as opposed to a knowing appreciation of the musician’s skill. Obviously I know it is skillful. But it’s skillful in a way I don’t truly understand, so I don’t engage with it on the level that a fellow musician would.
More than anything though, the music I truly love associates itself inedibly with places and people, to the point where you only need to the hear the opening bars of a song to be back lurking in their shadow. This is why LCD Soundsystem ‘All My Friends’ is one my favourite songs ever.
‘All My Friends’ was released on the band’s second record Sound Of Silver in 2007; the emotional crux of an album that was voted album of the year by The Guardian, Uncut and DiS. Sound Of Silver’s success transformed the electro-punk band from open Williamsburg secret into mainstream heroes. James Murphy became the poster boy for post-hipster weariness, at least six years before the rest of us. He sang about night-time, daytime, drugs and regret, without glamourising or bad-mouthing them.
When it was released I was just out of uni, living in a Clapham Common flat that had rats. I was working my way through the ranks of a call centre in south west London’s suburban jungle, retaining barely-explored aspirations of ‘writing, or something’. Frankly I was a waste of space but that’s fine- you’re allowed to be when you’re 22. My mates were doing something comparable: trying to nudge their way into dream jobs; not yet old enough to feel suspicious of the city; not flush enough to have much more than one big night a month.
But it was on those nights that Sound Of Silver became a staple part of our soundtrack. Whether it was sinking tins of Red Stripe before going out, or the long, wide-eyed hours at the mirror when we got back, it was the one album that everyone got onboard with. It united the drum and bass boys, the indie kids and the electro freaks. In ‘North American Scum’t it had punk highs, in ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ it had MOR lows.
And in the middle, smack bang dead, number five out of nine, was this downtempo number, bounced along on a consistent rhythm of thudding keys. “That’s how it starts, we go back to your house” Murphy opens, and it’s a perfect resonation of the nights that don’t get going until you’re back at home. The beginning bit - the actual going out into the pubs and clubs and getting a Morleys bit- - is really just pre-game. Warm-up.
From that starting gun, it’s then “We set controls for the heart the sun”: an impossible romanticism of amphetamine's temporary joy. A few verses later we stumble into the flipside: a mournful “We’re running out the drugs,” delivered a little higher pitch, a little feline. The last wail of the sunrise chasers. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve searched for a number at 6am, humming that line.
And then of course the repeated finish, “Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight.” There’s a desperation in Murphy’s voice now, as though these things he gently bemoans are the things he can’t live without, but one day when the late nights disappear into nappies he knows the friends will still remain.
As my friends and I slide into our 30s, the spectre of these late nights and Murphy’s lyrics loom a little higher. The comedowns last a little longer, the stereo dreams a little more vivid. Sometimes we do look like we’ve “got a face like a dad” and the kids on the street do “look impossibly tan”, as Murphy ruminates whilst the song canters to the end of its meaty 7.42 running length. Plus we’re growing up, and realising having two good days a week isn’t going to do the business.
And now one of my mates - one of the inner circle for whom this song has been so intrinsic - has just moved to Australia, chasing a girl, the sun and the dream inside their heads. It’s a beautiful, foolhardy thing to do, and it suits him: this carousing romantic bear of a man. A man that has the ability to shower you with knowledge, but never make you feel smaller for not being able to keep up. God bless him. God bless the both of them.
Just before Christmas we were sitting round his place, having a kind of last supper. We were all there for the final time in God knows how long and he’d cooked this lunch that I swear would have fed the 5,000 and all their concubines. It was a glorious thing that he’d sweated over for half a day, while the rest of us had all got pissed and filled up on cheese and snacks so that, by the time it came to eating, we weren't actually that hungry. Wankers.
I, being the sentimental knocker that I am, stuck of Sound Of Silver - one last time for the boys and all that. And as it played there was a vague titter of recognition for ‘Get Innocous’, but frankly we were all too busy with toasting him and spilling sausages on the floor that neither of us paid too much attention . And then ‘All My Friends’ came on and the same thing happened. There wasn't a big harmony at the end (thank God), no man tears and no knowing winks when Murphy drops “Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand” in the final verse.
It just played on and we knew it was there but we didn’t need to acknowledge it, because, whatever else happens, whatever fork the road takes on this next part of our live’s adventures - God it’s trite to say - but this song will always remain about me and all my friends. And I don't need to be a musician to understand that.