Shut Up and Play the Hits | Film reviews, news & interviews
Shut Up and Play the Hits
The surprisingly moving final days of New York dance-punks LCD Soundsystem
According to US television anchor Stephen Colbert, there are only three ways to end your career as a rock star: overdose, overstay your welcome or write Spiderman: The Musical. Rockers, he says, during a televised interview with LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, don’t get to walk away - certainly not at the peak of their careers, when every album they release is still greeted with critical adulation and they’re capable of selling out Madison Square Garden.
And yet, in April 2011, that’s exactly what the then 41-year-old New York performer and DJ chose to do. The Colbert interview, clips from which kick off this excellent and surprisingly moving two-hour documentary film about the final days of the band, was Murphy’s final appearance as LCD Soundsystem and came a few days before the band’s sold-out swansong. Murphy was in his thirties when he began his musical career, with 2002’s eight-minute dance-punk single “Losing My Edge”. Now, almost a decade later, he tells Colbert that he is ready to make the time to do the other things he wants to do.
“What’s next?” Colbert asks.
“I like making coffee,” Murphy replies.
The film dramatically contrasts the minutiae of rehearsals with the energy and joy of the band’s live performance
Shut Up and Play the Hits is many things - part concert film shot by friends in the audience, part documentary, part candid interview between Murphy and the writer and pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the band to release some two-disc DVD extravaganza of their final four-hour concert, and perhaps some day they will - there would certainly, on the evidence, be no shortage of buyers. But there’s something about the euphoria - there is no other word for it - of LCD Soundsystem’s live performance that leads one to think a purely live DVD would never work. This music needs community, sweaty bodies, dance and sheer abandon.
Skillfully spliced together, the film’s three elements dramatically contrast the minutiae of rehearsals with the energy and joy of the band’s live performance. We cut from an ecstatic crowd jumping in time to “All My Friends” - the poignant undercurrent being that this is a passionate, communal experience that the viewer will never again have the opportunity to be a part of - to lingering shots of Murphy in his predominantly white apartment the morning after, drinking coffee and talking to his French bulldog Petunia (Petunia and Murphy pictured below). In these scenes the musician’s apprehension at the rest of his life stretching out in front of him, without the band that has underpinned it for nine years, is palpable.
During a later scene, interviewing Murphy about his motivations and his plans for the future, Klosterman shares his theory about public figures - celebrities, sports personalities - being remembered for a string of successes but ultimately becoming “defined by a single failure”. What, he asks Murphy, would LCD Soundsystem’s failure be? A pause, and then Murphy replies that although he isn’t sure it could yet prove to be breaking up the band. Later, in a moving scene in the storage facility where the band’s equipment has been laid out before being sold, a solitary Murphy sobs quietly as he ponders the enormity of his decision.
The film finishes, as it probably should, with LCD Soundsystem’s last ever song in its entirety: the moving “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”. Murphy is at his most contemplative as he near-croons the stripped-back opening lines of the song - which is, I suppose, about the inevitability of change and the powerlessness of the individual to stop the tide - before thousands of balloons pour from the ceiling onto the hugging, emotional fans. The mood is one of both loss and celebration.
- Shut Up and Play the Hits is available on a three-disc DVD boxset which includes the entire three-and-a-half hour farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, plus an interview with Chuck Klosterman and James Murphy and outtakes
Watch the trailer to Shut Up and Play the Hits
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Inferior but lively superhero sequel
Knives fly in Mayfair, in a British Fifties curio
Lessons in how we treat each other from Roy Andersson, Sweden’s master of the absurd
Reich and Korot's dynamic reflections on 'progress' get new life from a young ensemble
Fainting, growing pains and the occult in Carol Morley’s seductive filmic waking-dream
Director Carol Morley and actress Florence Pugh on a major new British film about mass schoolgirl hysteria
Sensitive rumination on decency and loneliness directed by ‘The Full Monty’ producer Uberto Pasolini
Hidden feelings discovered amid bleak naturalism in Taiwanese debut
Documentary enters the toxic mind of SS Reichsführer Himmler
There's a killer on the loose in Stalin's Communist paradise
Two rereleases from Věra Chytilová, master of the Czech New Wave