Yesterday, I attended a playback of the new Daft Punk album in Dublin. Those in attendance were allowed to listen to it once and once only before it was taken away. First impressions?
Is this album any good? Sadly, no. Those of you hoping for a defining pop album Of Our Times, forget about it. Those of you who think ‘Get Lucky’ is one of the singles of the year (like me) and were hoping for an album chock full of tracks that could unite any crowd? That’s not what Random Access Memories is. In fact, ‘Get Lucky’ is the only single in the traditional sense of the word. Those of you, buoyed by the presence of Nile Rodgers on three tracks who were hoping for a modern disco classic? Nope, not even Rodgers’ midas touch could making that happen. Those of you who were hoping for something similar to Homework or Discovery, keep dreaming and some day it might happen.
“Was there no executive producer present to tell them to “rein it fucking in lads”?
So what are we left with? Random Access Memories is a prog-funk record. I reiterate: it’s not a pop album. It’s not a dance album. It’s not a funk album. It’s a PROG-FUNK album. It mines the music of the uncool past. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have made a hammy, ridiculous, overlong ’70s-inspired album. There’s a reason we left those sounds behind. Random Access Memories is cheesy as fuck, it’s boring in parts, it’s amazing in others. It yearns to touch your heart but it just ends up tickling your ears with a kitsch feather. Was there no executive producer present to tell them to “rein it fucking in lads”? What the hell happened? Everything on it SOUNDS amazing but it’s hard to imagine who this will appeal to. Ironic lovers of schlock pop? It’s the kind of record you have to hear at least once because you may not believe your ears. In the hours that passed since yesterday, I feel like I experienced some weird fever dream where my brain imagined how wide of the mark the album could get.
Much of the album is mid-tempo which is a big problem for a Daft Punk record. The album features no samples so it’s all live instruments played in a studio. The default setting throughout is prog-funk-lite: the funk provided by Nile Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr’s guitar licks and the prog is provided by almost omnipresent gentle keys. A lot of the songs feature Daft Punk’s trademark vocodered vocals.
The album’s opening track starts more like a stadium rock band with the awkward refrain of “let the music of your life give life back to music” and all of the above characteristics are present. It’s quite a traditional song that ends with a good time funk jam.
All too often, the album tracks stick to that prog-funk template with little variation. ‘The Game Of Love’ injects ’70s melancholy R&B sounds into its meandering length. ‘Within’ adds the elegant piano by Chilly Gonzales and ends up sounding like a mangled robot fronting a decent wedding band. ‘Beyond’ begins like the sprawling orchestral intro to an MGM film but it gives way to a prog-funk groove. I don’t remember much about “Motherboard” from the one listen other than it is a prog-funk instrumental and I scrawled “WTF?” in big black pen on the page during it.
“All too often, the album tracks stick to that prog-funk template with little variation.”
When that template is broken, in fairness to Daft Punk, they really try to push the boat out. The problem is, it just feels ridiculous rather than audacious. The album’s most successfully audacious track ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ begins with the famous electronic music producer in a monologue for a few minutes underpinned by live band funk before a breakdown happens when he says “my name is Gianni Giorgio, but everyone calls my Giorgio”. Heralded by a click track, these gorgeous Moroder synths arrive in all their retro-edged glory. But then, this horrible jazz piano almost ruins the retro futuristic vibe by dragging it into a shitty hotel bar and having its loungey way with it. Then the orchestral strings begin and it all comes together in one big crashing drum hi-octane ride. At nine minutes, it’s about two minutes too long. How can one song be so ridiculous and amazing all at once? The song needs a DJ edit, that’s for sure.