The insanely-hyped new album from Daft Punk is finally here — but is it any good? DJ Mag review 'Random Access Memories'...
It's finally here. Eight years after their last proper album, if we discount the 'Tron Legacy' soundtrack, arrives Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories'. My Bloody Valentine might have had the cool kids in a froth with their own return, but no other big comeback has generated as many column inches or as much digital hype as the French duo's.
When we were finally teased online with some scratchy video footage of their new tune 'Get Lucky', broadcast on a big screen at California's Coachella festival, quickly followed by a more official video and several promo clips of interviews with the forthcoming album's host of big name collaborators, social media, blogs, music sites and serious news portals were positively gushing with enthusiasm.
'Get Lucky', with its two massive guest stars Pharrell Williams (hip-hop and R&B innovator, erstwhile N.E.R.D member and one half of the Neptunes), and Nile Rodgers (guitarist, founder of disco legends Chic, producer extraordinaire to the megastars of pop and general funk overlord), certainly made a big impression, and reactions were overwhelmingly positive. No big surprise. With a very cool video, depicting the DP robots playing drums and bass, Rodgers grinning like a cheshire cat on guitar, Pharrell singing his heart out, after several listens, it proved catchy as chlamydia and as more-ish as crack. And it was Daft Punk back to doing what they do best, right? Disco. But with one crucial difference: this was all played live.
The burning questions that loomed over the album, made more nagging by promotional materials insisting that Daft Punk wanted this whole record to be live, the work of a proper band, was — would they still be an electronic act? Still make house records? Or insist upon that tiresome, age-old tradition of making something 'real' and 'live', because electronic music somehow lacks 'authenticity' and 'musicality'?
DJ Mag got lucky (chortle) at the end of April and were granted an audience with the album. At that point, 'Random Access Memories' contents were a closely-guarded secret to the point of paranoia. Now it's finally about to spill into the public domain, what does it really sound like?
Well, DJ Mag's misgivings about its largely live band basis are proven true. Mostly, though not completely, 'RAM' is a guitar/bass/drum kit/analogue synth affair; luckily, in places, it's also a very funky one, with many of the tracks making the link between the filtered disco rhythms of Daft Punk's 'Homework' and 'Discovery', and the original 1970s tunes that inspired them in the first place.
Opening track 'Give Life Back To Music' (with its tellingly 'organic' title) is great, with scratchy funk guitars, disco drama, a massive breakdown and that classic robotic DP talkbox vocal intoning the title. 'The Game of Love' is a smooth downtempo ballad, but De Homem-Cristo and Bangalter have always made those. Pure '80s soul, it's equal parts Zapp, Kleeer and Michael McDonald, with a touch of 'Thought It Was You'-era Herbie Hancock.
But it's track three 'Giorgio By Moroder' (featuring, um, Giorgio Moroder) where things really get interesting. Beginning with an interview with the disco producer genius, with the sound of a restaurant's ambience seemingly around him, he talks of his beginnings in music as a simple live funk groove rotates in the background. But when he starts talking about bringing electronic sounds into his work, as he did with Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love', well... prepare to be excited.
Much has been made of the sheer number of guests on the record. Pharrell and Nile's contributions are all absolute winners — 'Lose Yourself to Dance', a midtempo funk cut a little reminiscent of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall', is a definite highlight. Julian Casablancas of indie rockers The Strokes crops up on the excellent 'Instant Crush', his voice fed through a vocoder over chugging rock guitars, before a chorus that sounds like disco DP in their prime and a ridiculous, brilliant keytar solo seal the deal.
Likely to be a single, though it might alienate some fans. The best collabo is with Panda Bear on the only overtly electronic cut on the record, 'Doin' It Right', a slow 4/4 number with robo voxes mixing with the harmonies of the erstwhile Animal Collective man, with magical results. But few are likely to enjoy the frankly dreadful Paul Williams (Carpenters songwriter) tune 'Touch', an ill-advised attempt at blustery pomp prog that sounds like an outtake from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, while the DJ Falcon hook-up (yeah, sounds great on paper) is an awful soundtrack breakbeat thing, with crashing drums and church organs and a spoken sample about aliens, like something Hybrid would have left on the cutting room floor. A wasted opportunity. There's also a few other weird soundtrack things which don't really go anywhere, and seem a bit pointless.
That 'Random Access Memories' will sell by the bucketload (or at least be listened to on Spotify in giant numbers) isn't open for debate. Whether it will alienate large portions of their fanbase remains to be seen. While Daft Punk clearly want to move on and evolve, ditching the electronic beats, house and techno that first elevated them to fame, it's that music that forms the bedrock of their best tunes, and still, that's what they're best at making. And there will be a significant number of listeners, this writer among them, who are disappointed there's little of that on the new record.