Random Access Memories
74:24 min • Daft Life • May 20, 2013
Little Bastard reviews
I’ve always been a fan of Daft Punk’s work, from the moment I danced with my friend to ‘Around The World’ when she requested it at a school party (no one else was on the pulse enough to know what it was), right through to them becoming legitimate composers with their soundtrack for Tron Legacy, so the news of the new disco inspired album filled me with excitement and a little unease. Disco has never been my bag (in fact, it’s second only to country music in the tiny list of genres I don’t like) so despite the amazing music royalty on display, I was worried the result might underwhelm me. How wrong I was.
Opener ‘Give Life Back To Music’ sounds like it came straight out of Studio 54, with it’s guitars supplied by Nile Rogers and it’s authentic disco groove, it sets the tone perfectly. If all disco was like this, I’d probably like it. The pace shifts slightly with ‘The Game Of Love’, possibly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. It’s like the chill out of Pink Floyd as produced by Prince. The vintage backing is well matched with highly solemn robotic vocals, creating something like a love poem as sung by Siri. The duo had decided they wanted the use of vocoders to be tipped on its head, as in much of modern music human voices have the emotion removed by computers. With ‘The Game Of Love’ Daft Punk wanted to use computers to emphasise the emotion. It’s an interesting device and somehow the monotone android vocals makes the song feel far more lonely.
Giorgio By Moroder is a gorgeous groove of a track, built around disco god Giorgio Moroder talking about his rise from small-town German boy to music artist and producer, and it’s an inspirational 9 minute opus, with electro grooves, sweeping strings and strutting beats. And then the melancholy hits again, and we’re treated to a sumptuous piano robot ballad. Not a sentence I ever thought I’d ever write.
There’s a world within me that I cannot explain,
Many rooms to explore, but the doors look the same –
With piano supplied by Chilly Gonzales, ‘Within’ floats stunningly along, through the random access memory of the human mind (or maybe the machine’s hard drive) to an almost melancholic lounge conclusion.
After this beauty, I find ‘Instant Crush’, featuring Julian Casablancas, slightly disappointing. Like a disco homage to their hit ‘Digital Love’, it boogies it’s way along, and Julian’s heavily distorted vocals drop into place with the rest of the album, but I can’t help feeling like it pales in comparison to everything else so far. Maybe I was just expecting too much to begin with.
‘Lose Yourself To Dance’, the first track to feature the vocals of Pharrell Williams, is a definite return to form, with its hand claps and squelchy disco guitars. I’m used to associating Pharrell with this kind of disco sound, mostly due to his faux disco work with Madonna on Hard Candy, and his voice sits perfectly over the music.
Next up is ’70s singer-songwriter Paul Williams and his beautifully fragile and human vocals are added to the song ‘Touch’. Interestingly, this being only the second human voice on the album, the song seems to be written through the eyes of a machine, and as he sings,
Sweet touch, you’ve almost convinced me I’m real,
I need something more…
Before we are blasted into the NuDisco of single ‘Get Lucky’ which lyrically makes reference to a one-night stand (although according to Pharrell ‘Get Lucky ‘actually refers to having a connection with someone … which lyrically there’s not much evidence, so I’m not sure I believe him!) A one-night stand is perhaps one of the most robotic and emotionless of human activities and in this context it adds an interesting through-line to the album, giving the emotion and feeling to the robots, and the robotic pastimes and emotions to the humans. ‘Beyond’ follows on from this, feeling like the moment a robot falls in love, not knowing how to comprehend what’s happening.
The stuttering beauty of ‘Motherboard’ engulfs me, and it’s an epic and moving piece of electronica, that builds and falls, before blending into the gorgeous west coast sunlight of ‘Fragments Of Time’ featuring vocals by Garage producer Todd Edwards. Panda Bear provides the vocals for ‘Doin’ It Right,’ which is a is a gorgeous mid tempo summer groove, and the DJ Falcon produced closer, ‘Contact’, is Daft Punk at their epic spaceship best, though it seems an odd way to close such a highly emotionally album. So much of the beauty of the songs before it lie in their simplicity, and this is an up-tempo, sonically complicated track, that is much more indicative of the Punk’s earlier work, and because of this it feels a flat way to end this beautifully different opus.
I’m always fascinated by the idea of robots living – feeling alive, feeling human emotion, it’s a metaphor that, when used properly, can often tug at my heart strings more than actual human emotion can, and the melancholy on this album beautifully articulates how I feel most of the time as a human being, and allows me to empathise in a way I very rarely get to. Maybe it’s the a-sexual nature of robots – I’m not forced to identify with a gender, or forced to put myself in the shoes of a woman, or mentally change the sex of the person I’m pining for in a love song. I can simply be … and listen … and the robots tap into my thoughts. So it’s fair to say I gravitate to the down tempo moments on this album before the groovier disco tracks, which I imagine will be the opposite draw for most listeners. I’ve been waiting for my summer album – one that I can strut to, chill to, and move with reckless abandon to, and this album has all that in spades. Is it the perfect album that the hype had lead me believe? I don’t think so. It draws on themes that are never fully explored, and although nothing on the album is bad, it seems to tail off a little towards the end and travels toward regular Daft Punk territory. It is a beautiful body of work, for the most part, and for that I commend them, as such a heavily down tempo album is a risk for any dance act. Maybe, next time, if they commit more fully to their concept and sound, we will have the most accomplished work of their career. Until then, this will have to do, and thats no compromise.