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.

The album’s other long-running track ‘Touch’ is just ridiculous. Paul Williams has written songs for The Muppets and David Bowie but it’s the former that is more readily a reference with Williams’ dramatic delivery coming across as somewhat laughable (indeed, quite a few people laughed out loud during this song). The song itself is a cosmic space soundtrack interlude that runs and runs with soulful horns and jazzy sounds that conjures up images of Malibu and lounging on the Sunset Strip (or what I associate that to be like). And just when you think it’s over, Williams chimes in AGAIN about “wanting more” and needing “to touch”. Like the end credits of Star Wars, ‘Touch’ just keeps going long after people have stopped paying attention.

Elsewhere on the guest front, Julian Casablancas sings over a hi-tech 8-bit version of a Strokes song with bass and synth that soon becomes ploddingly dull on ‘Instant Crush’. Pharrell’s falsetto doesn’t do much on the funk-lite ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ which sounds like a song the band fell upon while improvising and didn’t really do anything more with. It’s repetitive but not in a good “dance music” way. By contrast, ‘Get Lucky’ is like a transmission from the world of pop. Tight, succint and universal, everything that the rest of the album is not. There’s a reason it’s the only song heard in the Collaborators video series.

“‘Get Lucky’ is like a transmission from the world of pop. Tight, succint and universal, everything that the rest of the album is not.”

Dance music enthusiasts hoping for a repeat or similar from the Todd Edwards-fronted ‘Fragments Of Time’ to ‘Face To Face’, I’ve got bad news for you. The song is also West Coast prog-funk but at least it’s direct this time rather than rambling in the way that it actually could be played on the radio or be released as a single, not something that can be said for most of these tracks.

The album’s most obvious highlight (other than ‘Get Lucky’) on one listen is ‘Doin’ It Right’. Panda Bear’s appearance highlights what’s wrong with the rest of the album. He’s a vitalic presence among these legends and collaborators; sounding full and alive. He comes correct with a transcendent vocal performance which is the first time vocally, that the album feels like it features human emotion, something that thematically appears in the lyrics throughout. Singing in a beautiful and uncharacteristically clear tone, Panda Bear sings over a robotic hook and the combination is really quite beautiful. And it’s something that is different for Daft Punk too. It’s the only time I really felt connected to the album rather than wondering what the hell was going on.

” Have these perfectionist producers actually polished a turd?”

The album finishes with ‘Contact’ which features the only sample on the album (from the Apollo 17 mission) an aural journey out of the stratosphere that culminates in spiralling synths and an almost Stadium drum and bass rhythm in some kitsch interplanetary liftoff.

Is Random Access Memories what happens when you leave revered technically meticulous dance music producers the key to a vintage studio from another era? Is this what happens when you let those same producers dictate musical legends that they respect too much? Meandering music and a shocking lack of self-editing? A mining of music past that has had its time. They played their instruments throughout. How RADICAL.

Obviously, I have only had one listen and all of the above are first impressions of a very silly-sounding album. It does not sound like a great album on the basis of a single listen. I’d like to think I will be proved wrong but I know people are going to be asking the same questions as myself when they hear it. Maybe these kitsch sounds need more time to appreciate? Have these perfectionist producers actually polished a turd? Random Access Memories won’t unite us like the hints of the disco album. It won’t unite us like great pop music. It won’t unite us like a rush of euphoria at a dance gig. At least we’ll always have ‘Get Lucky’ I guess. :|

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60 Responses to “First Listen: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories”

  1. Michelle Bond

    Whats with french bands and prog rock – the last Justice album comes to mind! What a pity, I was dying for this album after hearing Get Lucky

  2. mtbc

    i know you didn’t like it, but while i was reading all your descriptions of what happens in each song, i think im more excited now.

    prog-funk doesn’t sound as detrimental as you think

      • mtbc

        true, i really enjoyed your piece though, very informative. but i just cant let you kill my hope. i cant go for that :|

  3. Carl

    This is what happens when a music reviewer cant think outside the box…wouldnt write it off yet

  4. Mark Henry

    He’s not alone in fairness – FACT mag were lamenting the overly proggy elements also after their listen.

  5. Casey

    Discovery received a load of nasty reviews when it was first released as well. Just because you don’t like the style of the album doesn’t make it bad; in fact, I’m surprised by how opinion-based this entire article was, and yet how you assert that your personal taste must dictate how good or bad an album is. I for one am looking forward to something different. If I wanted Discovery or Homework, I’d listen to those albums. And if you are hailing “Get Lucky” and wanted the entire album to be like that, well, frankly, I’m glad you were disappointed. What a poorly written review.

    • Steve

      Music blogger shares opinions on their own music blog. SHOCK HORROR.

  6. Busy P

    Calm down people
    There are like 15 reviews for RAM and this is the only bad one

  7. snoe

    wheter I’m gonna like it or not, there’s actually nothing written about the music itself.

  8. Nialler9

    I didn’t want an album of Get Luckys. It was about expectations about lots of people have them. I would have loved an experimental audacious album from them which really works. On one listen I don’t think it does work at all. I hope I’m wrong. It’s great that it’s different, even if it just borrows from a specific time in music but ultimately, artistically, I don’t think RAM is a good album based on what I heard.

    Love how people say something is poorly written when they disagree with the sentiment of the words.

    • Dan

      I went to the pre-listening party so I can tell
      Everything he said is bullshit

    • Nick

      “I hope I’m wrong.”

      I love the out you keep giving yourself in case this review totally misses the mark when it’s released to everyone. You’re a legend, dude.

      • Nialler9 (@Nialler9)

        I hope I’m wrong because I want the album to be great. Not because I might be wrong. I don’t care about that. Like I keep stressing, these are my first impressions. Take what you want from it.

  9. Jessica

    Has Una Mullally heard the album? What does she think?

    Has Jim Carroll heard the album? What does he think?

    Does Red Bull #RBMA think it’s a cool album? Will they pay you to fly to NYC to attend some lectures?

    • FollowTheLeader

      I think everyone should just hold off on giving their opinions until someone cooler has given theirs and then we can agree with whatever they say and be cool like them.

  10. CK303

    In fairness to Nialler9, even though the album reviews have been generally very positive, there’s no real consensus about which tracks are great and which are turkeys. Some reviewers thought ‘Touch’ was the best thing on the album!

  11. nunchuks

    i liked your review, but i doubt i’ll agree with it after a few listens. A polished turd seems like a very exaggerated statement.

  12. sǝuoʇǝlɔun (@uncletones)

    Confirmed my suspicions that this was not going to live up to the hype…. and god knows there has been a nauseating amount of that.

    I think it is probably this over use of the sony marketing machine and the condecending lecturing on the state of dance music that has really put me off.

    Have the album on pre-order so will give it a go.

    Great piece and well done for saying what you think.

  13. Ronan

    Its amazing how bad (honest) reviews bring out the haters every time – its like you guys just wait for the opportunity and jump in with both feet

  14. Charles

    Nialler9 says its sh1t so it is. I’m not gonna listen to it, waste of time.

  15. Aidan Ralph

    Well, fair play to Nialler9 for having the balls to give his honest opinion. He’s a pretty credible source of information, so my expectations for the album have been lowered a little bit for the album. You never know how everyone will feel about the album in weeks, months and years to come. For example, remember how the world reacted (myself included) when Radiohead released Kid A? Now it’s my favourite album of theirs.

    Point being, chill the beans until the thing comes out lads. Then judge it for yourselves.

  16. fippo

    i give a f…. of you
    daft punk let the world go crazy with this album.

  17. OoOoOOO

    Well i have listened to it also…and i shall say this review doesn’t sound totally untrue… ;)

  18. Mori

    Quite a feat declaring certain sounds intrinsically uncool and inappropriate to ever be listened to in our refined Space Year 20xx.

    But one supposes music is really extremely difficult to review, because it’s almost impossible to be objective about it. No matter how much knowledge of the subject one has. If you believe the sound isn’t entertaining, it won’t be for you. But what moves different people is incredibly individual.

    • Lars Ulrich

      yea music criticism is self-fellating farce and this unreadable slop is a fine demonstration of the art IMHO

  19. Kch

    i guess you were expecting to hear something like skrillex or guetta
    i dont give a fuck about the review either
    i guess its a free world, you can say whatever you want
    so i call bullshit on th review, but whatever

  20. Grainne O Reilly

    Ohhh there’s fire at the disco and trouble on the playground it seems..This album may destroy friendships, relationships and be the talking point at house parties for years to come..I love a good debate so I cant wait to hear it so I can be prepared to have my verbal bullets at the ready..I enjoyed the review as always Nialler9, reading other’s opinions whether I agree or not is always an eye opener..happy thursday.

  21. Dave

    Giving an a detailed opinion on an album as hyped as this on first listen isnt going to be accurate. The body of music that an album provides takes lots of time to digest, understand and play to your moods. That’s when you know you an album is good for you or not.

    Personally, given Get Lucky and also the two leaks

    Doin it right ft Panda Bear – http://soundisstyle.com/2013/05/daft-punk-doin-it-right-leak.html
    Giorgio by Moroder – http://nxnylive.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Giorgio_by_Moroder__Rip_.mp3

    Im liking it!

  22. ladylion

    It was a hilarious review — an opinion! Lucky for me, besides this review, I have avoided all the bullshit (bad or good) around this album, but I do have to say this review is the first thing to have piqued my curiosity. For all the people who are so offended by the review unless Daft Punk is paying you, calm the fuck down! You are going to shave off a couple months off of your life, and no robot love is worth that. ;)

  23. Chad

    You’re dismissing prog-funk WAY too easily. Three words: The Love Below

  24. Jessica

    Has Una Mullally heard the album yet? What does she think?

    Has Jim Carroll heard the album yet? What does he think?

    How is #RBMA? Did they pay you to fly to America to see some lectures? Did you have an #enlightening experience?

    Is the #irishblogscene still as vibrant as ever? Is there a #circlejerk? Who’s in the #circlejerk?

  25. Peter Vogelaar

    Its not at all fashionable these days for music to have a prog funk lilt or any kind of extended solo, so I expect many will recieve it the way you have. It’s good though that they decided to take a different approach, make a no sample organic album. I’m hoping you’re wrong! Your article has definately made me more curious to hear it.

  26. Alec

    just skimmed through the whole album on itunes. this review rings true. disappointed.

  27. Aidan Ralph

    @Alec you’re saying that based on the fact that you “just skimmed through the whole album on itunes”? For fuck sake lad. Listen to it properly before forming an opinion! Any album worth its salt needs a good 5 listens to digest it fully.

  28. Danny Red

    It’s not about prog-funk being bad… its about DAFT PUNK dying. Kinda like Metallica shaped metal and then left, Daft Punk has abandoned electronic.

  29. Dani

    To be honest after listening to it, I too am disappointed. I think Niall’s review is pretty accurate in my opinion even though I hoped he would be wrong :) The Panda Bear track is refreshing after all the cheese. I also like Contact as it is reminiscent of their Tron soundtrack which I liked. Other than that it’s all about Get Lucky really!

  30. TJ

    I’ve been listening to it a few times now and I really like it, everyone has an opinion…

  31. Zelig

    Hilarious review.

    Reminds me of people who go to Dylan and bemoan the fact that he doesn’t sound like himself -

  32. Donal

    From the guardian ..”It felt like a major event before its release: more incredibly, it still does once you’ve heard it”. Still on repeat and pre-order…

    • JimBob

      I listened to it today, it was crap.

      That single is good but the rest is really bad compared to what I was expecting going off the single.

  33. jimmymcnulty

    This album is great fun. Give it a few listens and ignore this utterly pointless review. wasn’t a big fan of daft punk just got interested because of the nile rodgers angle and thought this album sounded great. Can’t get over the ridiculous “prog funk” angle of this review when I see some of the self indulgent “laptop wank” promoted on this blog. Give me “prog funk” over “laptop wank” any day

  34. shinyshona

    Great review of a first-listen. Having listened to the album 4-5 times now, I don’t fully agree with everything you wrote – but some valid points and a pure entertaining read!

    “ends up tickling your ears with a kitsch feather” – Brilliant!!

  35. Donal

    Will you be posting a more in-depth review? (assuming of course you have listened to the album a few more times)


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