Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary about the emotional toll that LCD Soundsytem’s final live show had on frontman James Murphy, dances around the fact that the band was essentially a solo act. (Though Murphy performed all of the instruments on LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, a number of people, Nancy Whang and Pat Honey among them, became an integral part of the band’s sound after Murphy took the album on the road.) This is presumably the reason why Murphy is the only person associated with LCD Soundsystem who’s interviewed in the film and therefore gets to tell us what the end of the band signifies.
Since we know Murphy isn’t retiring from making music, it’s difficult to mourn the end of LCD Soundsystem. The doc starts with a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek epitaph: “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.” Still, there’s genuine sentiment behind that opening intertitle. This is shown in footage of Murphy dazedly walking around after the band’s final performance and later during a lunchtime interview conducted by Chuck Klosterman. He also tells the crowd at Madison Square Garden that he wears his father’s watch while performing for good luck, which suggests he’s sentimental about the prospect of ditching the band. But isn’t it enough that Murphy will just move on to his next project?
Apparently not, if Shut Up and Play the Hits is any indication. Klosterman’s interview with Murphy is nigh insufferable because unpolished interviews are never good substitutes for ones that have been transcribed and cleaned-up. He may ferret some interesting tidbits out of Murphy about how the band is bigger than him and no longer just about his unique anti-mystique rock-star image, but if the filmmakers believe that to be true, they could have spent less time with Murphy and more with his bandmates.
Murphy, who at one point says that LCD Soundsystem was originally a “cover band,” corrects himself when he tells Klosterman that it’s not just him who’s a normal guy-cum-rock star, it’s “we,” the band—meaning the other people associated with the group. But after a point, can’t they just rejoin him in doing whatever he wants to do next? Because the end of LCD Soundsystem as a group really doesn’t mark anything other than the end of a single period in Murphy’s career.
With that in mind, it’s strange to think that Murphy also cites musicians like Nick Cave, and his band the Birthday Party in particular, as examples of rock stars he once considered mythic, then later realized were comprised of mortal men. Cave went from being the frontman for the Birthday Party to the Bad Seeds to Grinderman and back to the Seeds. Cave’s even scored movies with frequent collaborator Warren Ellis. This is striking since Murphy himself has already scored Greenberg on his own. So, as Murphy never says that his music will sound different after LCD Soundsystem disbands, there’s no need to fearfully anticipate a change that we don’t even know is coming.
Shut Up and Play the Hits revels in Murphy’s self-consciousness. Klosterman even hints at this key aspect to Murphy’s personality during their interview: a mental block that Murphy has been grappling with in public over the course of LCD Soundsystem’s three studio albums. In a crucial scene, Murphy surveys the equipment from the final show after the concert has already ended. A photo montage plays out featuring images of the group’s members and Murphy performing and having a good time together. And the scene ends with Murphy crying. I’m not so cynical to think that Murphy’s tears are false, but considering that this scene is the big emotional release valve for the film and the climax of Murphy’s character arc in Shut Up and Play the Hits‘s narrative, it feels cloying. He may sing, “All I want is your pity,” in “All I Want,” but that sentiment isn’t what LCD Soundsystem deserves to be remembered for.