So now the torch falls to Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo to “give life back to music”. This is a big claim to make on an album whose closest reference point is Sade. If Daft Punk’s hypothesis is correct, music died when the glittered disco ball went out of style. Thus, what the duo choose to resurrect are the decadent sounds of 1970s and early 80s yacht-rock and disco excess. No expense was spared making this album: every last meticulously plucked guitar string, every last luxurious keyboard tone was coated in a thick, glossy production sheen manufactured in famous recording studios like New York’s Electric Lady and L.A.’s Capitol Studios. Random Access Memories sounds, quite simply, like a million dollars. But remove the many layers of fastidiously applied makeup, and will we find anything really, truly alive?
The title of the aforementioned album opener “Give Life Back to Music” sounds just like the sort of pretentious and altogether corny sentiment you would expect two Frenchmen to dream up. The problem is the song’s just too damn catchy to hate. One cannot but help surrender to the persistent demands of its sweet robotic voice. “Let the music in tonight/ Just turn on the music/ Let the music of your life/ Give life back to music”. In the end it goes down smooth – a little too smooth if anything. The tune is so hummable it verges on jingoistic. We’re left unsure whether this is a statement of artistic intent or the world’s goofiest charity appeal.
Indeed Random Access Memories works best when it steers clear of grand, lofty ideas and sticks to the music itself. The two album highlights “Get Lucky” and “Doin’ it Right” are, lyrically speaking, just about having a good time at the ol’ discotheque. No one can deny the instantaneous joy that is “Get Lucky”. Guitar legend Nile Rodgers (formerly of Chic) delivers a truly timeless riff which serves as the perfect counterpoint to Pharrell’s falsetto. Panda Bear’s appearance on “Doin’ it Right” is equally welcome. He delivers a simple chanted mantra about ‘losing yourself in the magic’ or something in his trademark choir boy voice. Such is the strength of Daft Punk’s collaborators that you wonder what exactly the two Frenchmen contributed.
Once or twice, however, Daft Punk’s decision to rope in a big name star falls flat. Giorgio Moroder’s extended monologue on “Giorgio by Moroder” is one such low point. The song is built around Moroder, doing his very best Boris Becker impersonation, churning out some generic drivel about how tough it was being a musician in the 70s over some decidedly retro, smooth funk. If that’s not cringe worthy enough, Moroder’s attempts to come across as a man of the people are similarly ill advised. “Hi my name’s Giovanni Giorgio, but everyone calls me Giorgio”. When finally Moroder decides to stop talking, the beat morphs into a more classic, riff-heavy Daft Punk beat. The two Frenchmen decide to stick the knife it this track once more and introduce a totally superfluous orchestral part, jarring completely with their grimy synths. Worse still the song lasts for over 9 minutes. It’s truly gag inducing.
Apparently, Daft Punk decided to record orchestral parts for every song. We can only be thankful that they decided to use them sparingly in the end. My only major complaint with this record is that it’s hugely out of sync with Daft Punk’s ambition. Take a track like “Touch” for instance. It has everything. It starts with an android begging for human contact, before Paul Williams from the film The Phantom of Paradise takes centre stage to perform some Elton John-style balladry, until a comically sprightly piano line intercut with some jazzy sax kicks in, and finally a choir appears to truly take the song out of orbit. It’s utterly ridiculous and overblown. Far from giving life back to music, whatever that means, Daft Punk have parodied the very idea of life and death, music and silence. What we’re left with are the highs and lows of a dream that keeps veering first towards reality and then towards absurdity. On the track “Doin’ it right” our robot narrator assures us “Everybody will be dancing and be doin’ it right”. If only it were that simple.
By Alex Fullerton