Shut Up and Play the Hits | Movie Review
Reading the New York Times this morning, I came across an essay discussing the dry, academic dissection of rap lyrics on the Internet and how this trend tends to suck the life and fun out of the music. "We can turn something that ought to be enjoyed into something that owes us an explanation for its existence, into something that must reveal its underlying worth," the author, Willy Staley, points out. Having just seen the LCD Soundsystem documentary-concert-film Shut Up and Play the Hits last night, I couldn't help but hear the echo of band frontman James Murphy in this sentiment.
Isn't this what "Losing My Edge" is all about? "I'm losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every good member of every good group from 1968 to 1972," Murphy sings. No, the fact that I just quoted a lyric I pulled off the 'Net is not lost on me. This is the world we live in, and it was this specific corner of our world that launched LCD Soundsystem in 2002, when Murphy was already in his thirties. He's gone on to become a poetic voice for a generation who grew up on, and grew out of, the rave scene, but still praised partying over pretentiousness. He's like dance music's Bob Dylan, articulating feelings on hipsters, authenticity, pretension and living life right.
And then he decided to call it quits. As LCD Soundsystem anyway. Citing that, among other things, the band had gotten as popular as he cared for it to be. This is the story that Shut Up and Play the Hits tells, interspersing live footage from the band's final show at Madison Square Garden last April with segments of Murphy's life in the 48 hours that followed, with an interview between Murphy and cultural thinker/writer Chuck Klosterman providing insight into the thoughts that precipitated the band's dissolution and whether Murphy ultimately thinks it's a good idea.
Beautifully shot, the film is a must-see for diehard fans. Even if you're late to the LCD party, watching it will probably turn you into a believer. Better late than never, right? The scenes of the band's final set, which includes clips from hit songs like "Dance Yrself Clean," "All My Friends," "Losing My Edge" and grand finale "New York, I Love You," are enough to get you out of your seat and into the aisles. With the crowd freaking, the disco ball spinning and Murphy and his crew revealing unspoken communication between them as they revel in the moment, many in the sold-out crowd clapped at each song's end, forgetting that the band wasn't actually performing right in front of them. Such is the intimacy with which the film is composed.
When you aren't watching the band's last waltz, you're left alone with Murphy and his thoughts—sometimes uncomfortably close. One scene that sees him on the phone with a loved one while fixing coffee in the offices of his label, DFA, shows him tearing up at the thought of all the loose ends left to tie up even though the show's over. Later, while sitting alone in the storage unit holding all of the previous night's instruments and equipment, we're a fly on the wall for a scene with full-blown tears. Some of these moments, mostly the initial ones with him sitting idly in his pj's playing with his French bulldog, are cute but seemed forced—"aw" moments for us to gush over but hard to stomach with complete sincerity. Mostly though, you get a pristine sense of the overwhelming finality of Murphy's choice to close this chapter on his career, and how it weighs on him in the initial aftermath.
At the onset of Klosterman's interview, he asks Murphy if a musician actually considers a band's end when he or she is just getting it started. While this wasn't precisely the case with LCD Soundsystem, you'll be hard pressed to find another band whose final days are so meticulously calculated. Later, Murphy and Klosterman contemplate what LCD's lasting legacy will be. Will Murphy, given all he's done for both rock and dance music, be remembered solely for having pulled the plug on such a wondrous thing before its time? Given 200-plus people I saw snaking around the block, waiting to get into the midnight showing after mine let out, somehow I doubt it.