Retro Recommendations: LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening vs. Iggy Pop’s The Idiot

Debates over musical influences generally go one of two ways: Either music nerds go overboard tracing historical antecedents for every stray hook, chord progression, and flourish, or hasty critics chalk up one similar moment as proof of all-encompassing inspiration. Still, such discussions bring music fans together as we all get drawn into the excitement of making connections.

Because we’re interested in what musical history has to offer the buzz bands of 2010, Flavorwire is launching a weekly column of retro recommendations based on new music we love. This first week pits LCD Soundsystem’s highly anticipated This Is Happening against Iggy Pop’s 1977 classic The Idiot. Click through to read about the albums, listen to tracks from both, and let us know if you see a resemblance.

Few people making music today cite their sonic influences as obviously as James Murphy. For a man who first came to fame with eight minutes of self-mocking name-dropping, his references are remarkably unironic on This Is Happening: There’s the homage to David Bowie’s “Heroes” riff on “All I Want,” the David Byrne found-funk and “you may find yourself” preacher patter on “Pow Pow” that nods to the burbley dance beats of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and even the “White Light/White Heat” shout-along in the manic “Drunk Girls.”

On the surface, the most obvious relationship This Is Happening has to The Idiot, Iggy Pop’s first solo album, is the heavy piano line of “Nightclubbing,” which Murphy appropriates for “Somebody’s Calling Me.” But with their shared train-hiss exhale, haunted-house foghorn, and scales sliding down a staircase intact, these tracks are emblematic of the larger similarities between the two albums.

Iggy Pop – “Nightclubbing”
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LCD Soundsystem – “Somebody’s Calling Me”
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Both Murphy and Iggy work wonders within their vocal limits, ululating, reciting, negating, suddenly belligerent, alternately brassy and whiny, their digressions splintering into further broken paths. We get the sense that the two stop singing not when they run out of lyrics, but when they pass out in the live booth while the tapes roll. The mechanically circular contemplations and drone of The Idiot are drawn out to bubble-and-burn buildups in This Is Happening. If Iggy poured and smoothed the concrete in a hasty fashion on the way to the bar [Ed. note: or coke dealer] with Bowie, James Murphy and co. take the time to scribble and doodle their flourishes into the sidewalk before it hardens for good. Even the two album covers look similar: We see Iggy with arms outstretched in a demonstrative slant, goofily gazing slanty-eyed into the camera, while Murphy flips the image sideways and casts his eyes downward.

The similarities persist, from the equally delighted squeals of “Funtime” and “Drunk Girls” to the orchestral trills from Pop’s “Baby” that find their way into “You Wanted A Hit” to the This Is Happening‘s appropriation of the familiar stutter funk of “Sister Midnight.” On a superficial level, even “China Girl” matches Murphy’s assurances that “we don’t do hits”; the song didn’t become hugely popular until David Bowie smoothed the rough edges and reclaimed it for his own years later.

The albums share repetition for repetition’s sake, broken up by herky-jerky gasps and rattles and bleary eyes staring at synth-smeared mirrors, Novocaine-dulled whines, crescendos that feel dank and muted and heavy from smoke and spittle. The lyrics of the two albums are also companion pieces, each offering a skewed perspectives on love and relationships. Despite the affirmation inherent in a title like This Is Happening, both Murphy and Iggy’s doubts about their capacity to love and be loved result in ample alienation, nihilism, and self-loathing.