x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Reflections on Daft Punk's new offering

Despite being a hugely impressive feat of production, Random Access Memories may have fallen under the weight of its own expectations.

Daft Punk's Access Random Memories.
Daft Punk's Access Random Memories.

Daft Punk
Random Access Memories
(Daft Life /
Columbia)***

In case you haven’t heard, Daft Punk – the French electronic legends behind some of dance music’s most memorable moments of the late 1990s and early noughties – have a new album out. It’s unlikely you have. It’s barely been discussed and the first single – Get Lucky – was largely overlooked.

If only that had been the case. If only the average human being hadn’t already heard Nile Rodgers’s guitar licks and Pharrell Williams’s almost Bee Gee-esque vocals on Get Lucky 40 billion times already. If only Random Access Memories hadn’t become the most talked-about musical release of the year, an impressive feat for a band whose third and last studio album – 2005’s Human After All – failed to continue down the genre-defining path laid by the first two. If only all of these things, then we wouldn’t have to deal with that cumbersome issue known as hype and the weight of expectation wouldn’t be towering high over Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s robotically protected heads.

It’s not that Random Access Memories isn’t good. It is. It’s just not as good as we all wanted it to be.

Get Lucky was an inspired choice for a first single: a catchy, instantly danceable window into the album’s disco-fuelled landscape. But the follow-up doesn’t appear so obvious as, say, it did with Discovery, a record strewn with hits.

The opener, Give Life Back to Music, starts with an impressively energetic intro before slipping into a polished, yet largely forgettable lounge-room funk affair likely to be playing in your nearest dimly lit bar anytime soon. The same can be said of Beyond, a slick piece of funk that benefits from robotised vocals and an almost Star Wars-worthy orchestral opening that heads off towards well-produced nothingness.

Fragments of Time, featuring Todd Edwards, is a thoroughly pleasant piece of funk pop with a lively, synth-heavy breakdown reminiscent of Digital Love. In fact, much of Random Access Memories – especially The Game of Love and Lose Yourself to Dance – feels like some sort of post-club follow-up to Discovery, or the slower tracks towards the end you missed because you’d had Harder Better Faster Stronger on loop. That is, until the final track, Contact, a full-on Homework-era noise assault likely to wake up anyone who had nodded off.

Even if it isn’t Daft Punk’s best work, you can’t fail to be impressed. Having started in their bedrooms, the duo are now making music with 70-piece orchestras across studios in multiple cities and a crack team of session musicians. The production values are unquestionable and send a clear message to those numerous artists who have imitated the Daft Punk sound in the past: good luck this time.

The trouble is, in focusing so much energy on the intricate methods of putting the record together, Daft Punk might have ignored the very reason they became so influential in the first place.

aritman@thenational.ae

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