Daft Punk have taken eight years to release their fourth studio album Random Access Memory, and the French duo have “got lucky” with their reviews as critics have praised the album, giving it four stars or more.
With Random Access Memories Daft Punk have created an album that could only have been made wholly in the studio with real instruments and musicians (including an orchestra and children's choir). And the musicians on board are a starry cast: Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Julian Casablancas, Panda Bear, Paul Williams, Todd Edwards and Giorgio Moroder.
Like their Discovery LP which laid fresh pathways for pop and dance in 2001, Random Access Memories breathes life into the safe music that dominates today’s charts, with its sheer ambition; for pretty much the only thing not unexpected on this adventurous odyssey through disco, rock, funk and futuristic sounds, is Parisians Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo’s vocoded vocals. It’s an exciting journey, and one that, for all its musical twists and turns, has its feet planted on the dancefloor.
It’s rare to hear a record that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard, and rarer still to hear one that also puts a smile on your face. How many great bands turn their backs on putting out the same old shit only to release records so calculatingly "out there" they feel like maths homework? They forget this is supposed to be FUN. Yeah, Radiohead, I’m talking to you.
Daft Punk have enjoyed near-universal acclaim over 20 years and three albums but Random Access Memories is their greatest achievement: an ambitious masterpiece you can’t imagine being made by anyone other than Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
Taking eight years to make an album tends to mean that everyone forgets about you. With Daft Punk it has simply fuelled speculation. Their return coincides with mainstream America’s discovery of EDM (electronic dance music), putting them in the position of sophisticated Europeans showing boorish DJs such as Skrillex and Deadmau5 how to make music that contains not just energy but depth and nuance too.
Then there are the songs. "Get Lucky" is the hit of the summer before the summer has even begun, despite having more than a passing resemblance to "Club Tropicana" by Wham! Elsewhere, Random Access Memories is a blend of disco, robotic vocals, soft rock and smooth easy listening that really shouldn’t work but does — brilliantly. It captures the melancholic beauty of the nightclub, the feeling that the party must inevitably end, with moments of reflection and a sense of space.
It’s not perfect. It’s just very, very good. There are weaker versions of the robotic disco funk of "Get Lucky" and "Instant Crush" features a painful falsetto guest spot from Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. But as an electronic symphony infused with warmth, logic and pace, the album is a triumph of humanity over technology.
This is a 13-track, 80-minute love letter to synthetic music and dancing in which many of the pillars of electronic club music are swerved. Only one song features samples, apparently. Contact begins with Apollo mission astronaut Gene Cernan reporting a UFO sighting, and features a lift from Australian band the Sherbs before closing the album with a spectacular wig-out that demands head-banging, not genteel boogie-ing.
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Throughout, the strings on RAM are made of catgut, not 1s and 0s; human orchestras swell. On "Fragments of Time" there may even be a lap steel guitar sighing. RAM's sound design is less indebted to techno and house than to funk and soft rock, for both good and ill. We actually get lucky twice. The single's twin is called "Lose Yourself to Dance" and it nags even harder, with handclaps, a stereo pan of robots urging “c'mon, c'mon” and Pharrell Williams offering you his shirt to mop up the sweat.
However, you do regularly want to knock on the helmets worn by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, and inquire after their wellbeing. There is a surfeit of sad robot-muzak here, some cheesy ("The Game of Love"), some of it effective ("Beyond").
French duo, Thomas Bangalter, 38, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 39, are among the prime architects of the Nineties techno-electro-club-pop sound that has belatedly colonised American pop. Yet the duo themselves appear unimpressed. Bangalter recently commented that “computers are not really music instruments” and it is “too easy to make the same music you hear on the radio”. Concentrating on movie soundtracks and live sets, Daft Punk haven’t released an original studio album in seven years.
Their return should be heralded from on high, because it is the boldest, smartest, most colourful and purely pleasurable dance album of this decade. In an effort to invoke the inspiration of records they used to sample, the duo have built tracks up with live musicians, notably collaborating with Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, whose slick, syncopated rhythm slices shine amid the plush synthesizers.
Over 72 minutes of wild and wayward explorations, they embrace chugging new wave rock, sleek soul, cocktail lounge crooning and Dixieland jazz but there’s nothing here to scare kids off the dance floor.
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