Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories: Review


I may as well lay my cards on the table from the outset: I am disappointed with the new Daft Punk record. Whilst it was always going to be difficult to live up to the hype that they had generated with their tantalisingly expert advertising campaign, this record will fall below the expectations of even those who had drastically tempered their excitement for the Nile Rogers assisted effort.

Random Access Memories displays its artists’ hearts on its sleeve from the outset. The title of opener “Give Life Back to Music” alludes to a sentiment that the duo have expressed in interviews numerous times in the run up to the release; that much modern music, and particularly the electronic genres from which they sprung is lacking in soul and needs some heart injecting back into it. In some ways this is almost certainly a reaction to the EDM phenomena (that Daft Punk themselves helped birth with their 2007 Alive tour), which now finds itself traipsing across the stadiums of America, sponsored by energy drinks companies and playing amped-up  light and sound extravaganzas to drunken twenty-somethings. This is dance music, but not Dance Music.

However, Daft Punk’s main criticism is also where the problem with very own record now lies - the music is simply soulless. They have always walked a very fine line, playing with the theme of exploring human emotion via electronics, but whereas previous releases seemed to tap into something which allowed them to pull on the heartstrings, this does nothing. Witness the banal plodder that is “Instant Crush” featuring Julian Casablancas. This falls so close to much of the lame MOR pop on regular radio rotation that it’s astonishing that it comes from a group who have previously created their own zeitgeist.

Likewise “Doin’ It Right” with a guest vocal by Panda Bear of Animal Collective. This could have, like many tracks on the record, been an ideal collaboration. Unfortunately it instead crawls along, repetitive in the way that bad pop music sometimes is, rather than the way good electronic music sometimes is. This is not to say that Daft Punk’s move to the pop centre was always doomed to fail, in my opinion the best track on their magnum opus Discovery was the Todd Edwards assisted “Face to Face”, at that point by far the poppiest song that they had ever made.

Neither is it to say that the record is all bad. “Touch”, including delicate vocals from Paul Williams is not without its own very bizarre kind of charm and “Get Lucky” is also a pretty good pop song that by now most people reading this will have heard and formed their own opinion on. For me by far the highlight is the Giorgio Moroder assisted (funnily enough) Giorgio by Moroder, and not only because the monologue by the iconic Italo-German producer makes you feel as if he’d be a thoroughly nice chap to sit down and have a cuppa with and discuss how nice it is to see the kids dancing. It actually feels fairly inspired when the track drops down to a synthesised kick matching Moroder’s description and falls silent before coming to life again as an entirely different beast.

In the most part however, this is a washover of a record not befitting of artists of this calibre. The sheer number and diversity of the guest spots leaves you with the feeling that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter are operating as mere curators rather than artists in their own right. Simply put, this is a record that has had such a sheen put on it that it has been polished into non-existence.