Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
by Jeffrey Curry (Behavioral Neuroscience), published May 20th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Before my own attempt at throwing together my profusion of thoughts about Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, I decided to parse through some of the already 3-to-5-day-old reviews of an album that became universally listenable less than a week ago. It might’ve been in hopes of accidentally absorbing an opinion to regurgitate, but a unanimous rating of “4/5″ from the top four Google search results killed my appetite for subconscious plagiarism. All four reviews read as if executives from each magazine had gathered around a large oak conference table at a remote location, as if a collective review was the only effective way to respect an album of such magnitude. Hype, when quantified to be the size of a small galaxy, can do that. And yet in the context of the publicity RAM received before its leak iTunes stream, this cooperative grade of an 80% seems a bit underwhelming. Columbia utilized a higher advertising endowment on RAM than most artists receive in the entire span of their career, and even the most well-documented moment of Coachella arrived from the pixels of a television screen, not a hologram. If there’s little reward in labeling an album as “pretty good,” why the safe play?
It was likely a moment of hallucination: Daft Punk, the messiahs of electronic dance music, just announced their first album in eight years. It’s not a statement to be taken lightly, as the album’s supporting documents all suggest that this is the moment that not only will return Daft Punk to excellence after the droning Human After All, but will also rewrite all of musical history. You receive your advanced copy of the album that’s supposed to alter your life course and suddenly it’s 1980 at Studio 54. A band covered in black sequins that are reflecting off the stage lights are playing on a stage opposite the otherwise poorly lit room from you. It’s hard to get a good look past the sea of dancing New Yorkers but you’re not overly concerned. A short synthesizer solo grabs your attention for a few moments, but soon after its fourth and final measure, you return to your intoxicated haze. For an album that, for the most part, initially hits you like a late-20th century disco and theater compilation, RAM is easy to ignore without context. Luckily for us, there’s more context than being drunk in a club thirty-odd years ago.
Random Access Memories is Daft Punk’s stimulus package for what today’s music should’ve been. In their eyes, it’s protection, it’s insurance, and it’s the last line of defense against the current state of the iTunes top 100. Its thirteen songs are a roadmap through time, traversing the last four decades of funk, disco and progressive rock and into the future of dance. The title of the opening track declares their primary objective: to abolish the planet Earth’s unquenchable desire to create lifeless music on a laptop. The claim is backed by a flawless production; the sound quality itself is unrivaled by any other recording in recent history and the musicianship is top tier. Even the improvisational style of the live drumming found on most of the album, particularly on the standout synth-driven track “Giorgio by Moroder,” sounds optimally calculated. Daft Punk’s attempt at reminding the world that real people are still feasible choices for music production is an amicable one, if not a bit frivolous and unnecessary, but the majority of RAM‘s success lies in its stand-alone power of instrumentation and songwriting. The literal apex of the album arrives on the track “Touch”: between a fantastic vocal performance from Paul Williams, about 45 hat tips to different genres and transitional effects characteristic of dated analog recordings, it’s easily the most complex song in Daft Punk’s catalog. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, however, nor is the opposite. The simple vocal sample on “Doin’ it Right” is optimistic, carefree and undeniably catchy, forming the backbone of the most instantly memorable song on the album. The lack of correlation between complexity and quality on RAM makes each song enjoyable for reasons beyond the scope of the track’s résumé.
This album won’t overthrow Discovery for the title of arguably the most important house album ever, though it’s completely obvious that this wasn’t ever Daft Punk’s intention. While it’s not a house album in any sense of the word, RAM aspires to lay the foundation for house music as if it had never been created, paying homage to the influences of Daft Punk’s previous albums. The album is fun (and even a bit cheesy at times) from start to finish, with a seemingly endless number of infectious hooks and groovy melodies. Even the slower and sensual songs on the album that remind the listener of Discovery are highly developed and creative. While the vocoder-driven “The Game of Love” and “Beyond” cannot top the likes of “Digital Love” or “Something About Us,” the tracks are still deserving of the title of quintessential Daft Punk slow jams.
Upon first listen to Random Access Memories, I wouldn’t entirely fault you if you thought that this wasn’t a Daft Punk album. Yeah, there’s vocoder on half the tracks, but the superficial similarities between this album and albums past stops at that. By three seconds into hearing “Give Life Back to Music” for the first time, I had already forgotten about the silver and gold robots. I had forgotten about the Coachella announcement and the sparkling tuxedos and transparent instruments. My mind had already began playback of the thunderous opening notes of “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. By the time I watched the Hindenburg burst into flames and crash down into the earth below it for the tenth or twentieth time, I realized that Daft Punk had succeeded. On RAM, they weren’t out to reinvent the classics, they just wanted us to rediscover them.
Recommended Tracks: Give Life Back to Music, The Game of Love, Giorgio by Moroder, Beyond, Doin’ it Right, Contact