With their 2001 smash-hit album Discovery, Daft Punk found that popularizing a rising trend is one thing and staying ahead of the curve is an entirely different challenge. Their only effort after that, Human After All not only cemented their success on the charts but also pigeon-holed them into club-music.
So, after an 8-year hiatus during which they dabbled with ambient futurepop in the brilliant Tron Legacy OST, they return with Random Access Memories which does initially come across as a surprise. It seems like an album made by musicians who have fully recharged their batteries and have found a new purpose. Right from the opener “Give Life Back to Music”, their purpose seems crystal-clear. Here are artists who are tired of the genre they themselves were responsible for popularizing and have now decided to create a counter-movement for it.
It is a conscious attempt to introduce an organic feel to a genre that in its fatigue has become increasingly more robotic and distant. Daft Punk do a decent job in that regard – the album is rich with nostalgic vibes and reminds you of genres – both popular and obscure from 70s and 80s which directly or indirectly influenced the evolution of electronic music.
The execution is however not always balanced. In their attempt to inject a humane feel into music, Daft Punk forget to erase some of their own trademarks – their inability to break from a single structure and particularly the overt use of auto-tune which,in tracks like the sombre “Within” and “Game of Love”,alienates the listener from any emotional impact the music may have.
Thankfully, we are not completely left devoid of dance-worthy tracks and Daft Punk are still good at that. “Lose Yourself To Dance” uses Pharrell Williams, one of the most recognizable producer voices in today’s popular music to a unique effect. Combined with claps and rare kicks, it’s the song most likely to get your feet tapping.
The ultra-popular lead single “Get Lucky” suffers from the typical Daft Punk syndrome of using a unique idea for far too long. As a 4-minute single, it may have worked. As a six-minute song which does virtually nothing different than recycle the catchy funky guitar riff over repeating verses, it fails to impress me.
One of the strong-points of Random Access Memories is the selection of artists Daft Punk chose to collaborate with. With “Doin’ It Right” that features the perennial hipster favourite Panda Bear, they use his vocals to the best effect. “Contact” may be a song that is stretched a little beyond its limit with its 8-minute length, but Paul Williams’ infectious voice keeps it together. Equally true for “Instant Crush” which like its namesake will instantly grow on you with its catchy riff and the surprisingly solid auto-tuned vocals of Strokes’ vocalist Julian Casablancas.
“Giorgio by Morodor” – which is quite easily the strongest track on the album is a 9-minute long futurepop instrumental which also acts as a part-tribute and part-interview of Giorgio Moroder. What Daft Punk exercise here is sorely lacking from the entire album. The use of multi-segmented structures is known to music for as long as The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, so it’s surprising why they don’t use it more often. Alternating between snippets of Giorgio’s interview and futurepop instrumentals, they spice it up with considerable variety within a single song. Eventually ending with a roaring guitar solo, this is easily the most daring song on the album – the closest Random Access Memories gets to proper innovation.
Sadly, it’s the only song which dares experimenting with its structure. The other tracks are perfectly happy with their single structure and Daft Punk don’t venture out beyond that.
Daft Punk may no longer be innovating but they are essentially recycling genres which have been under the radar for quite a few years already. Do not mistake Random Access Memories for a revolutionary album, or the second coming of Jesus. It is not the start of a new era. That era has already begun, Daft Punk are playing the heralding horn a little late. But if you do, listen to Random Access Memories for what it was to its’ creators, a chance to counter the genre they created. To smother the monster they gave birth to – then it’s a reasonably solid effort.
If only they could drop some of their annoying tendencies – recycling single idea for six minutes and using auto-tuned vocals *everywhere* on the way, then it’d be a lot better.
Final Score: 3/5