The reasons why Daft Punk’s long awaited return to studio output has ended in disappointment are manifold. The expectation, for one thing, has been mesmeric. Not helped in the least by teaser trailers, promo spots, YouTube videos or the release of the painfully good ‘Get Lucky’. Aside from this, Daft Punk’s own genius hasn’t helped at all either. Their back catalogue is a testament to creativity and innovation and even a couple of clunkers in there can’t stop people returning to the well.
Or, perhaps, it is the high watermark they set with Alive in 2007. As far as live albums go, this is possibly one of the best. Fair enough, calling two lads pushing buttons and turning dials a ‘live’ performance may be asking for pedantry and ire, but it was recorded live and therefore, it is live. Either way it was a masterpiece of an album and went some way to recreating the energy and delirium of a DP live show. The music sounded so full of energy and life; it was familiar yet different. So now that Random Access Memories is about to be released, expectation is naturally going to be in the upper regions of weighty.
Unfortunately, it is as underwhelming as it is brave. Tomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo set out to create an album that couldn’t be made in a bedroom and acted as a testament to its own influences. They wanted to pay homage to the ground they were breaking. The impact of Nile Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr on it is very notable, and present. But perhaps a little bit too much so. From the get-go the instrumentation is gorgeous, and the production is faultless. But all the little chops and jangles from Rodgers seem so layered on as if subtlety was a dirty word in the studio; there is just so much of it that it feels as if you’re watching somebody apply icing to a cake with a shovel.
From the moment ‘Give Life Back to Music’ strikes up, you know it couldn’t be anybody but Daft Punk; but at the same time, it sounds nothing like them. The lyrical refrain sounds as if it is straight from the pages of Google Translate, but it is a good song and a great opening track. ‘The Game of Love’, again, has plenty of guitars and big, splashing cymbals, but it is way too airy and slow to keep the momentum going. And Daft Punk’s love of vocoders is all the more insistent than usual – in fact, rumour has it that this album actually uses robotic voice simulators which are treated to make them sound more human. Hmmmm.
Next up is ‘Georgio by Moroder’, which starts with a groove-sapping monologue by the man himself. Homage: yes, fromage: definitely. It does break into a monumental funk which is a slightly welcome shift away from the unrelenting disco. But now the album drifts off into some meandering freefall from which it never really recovers. ‘Instant Crush’ featuring Julian Casablancas is good even if the Strokes frontman is practically unrecognisable on it. ‘Touch’ sounds like the intro to Taxi and ends up like some unidentifiable ‘celebration’ song you might have heard at a 21st once. And this is one of the albums supposed epics.
There isn’t a whole lot to be excited about until ‘Get Lucky’ starts up and it provides one of only three hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments. This song is perfect, perfect, perfect, and I defy anybody to produce a more fitting start to the summer. ‘Doin’ It Right’ featuring Panda Bear and ‘Contact’ are the only other exceptions to what is an underwhelming album.
Full of nice little flourishes and almost 100 per cent sample-free, Daft Punk have made a kind of progressive-retro album. But it is just too much of a good thing. If you like funk and disco and want to see more done with it, this album is a good start. If you wanted anything else, you may have to wait until somebody, inevitably, rips them off and possibly does it better.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories can be streamed on the duo’s iTunes page now.