Trying to review Daft Punk’s new album was never going to be easy, hell, an album that weighs in at 75 minutes long, with a list of collaborators that sounds like the future rock’n’roll hall of fame, was always going to be difficult to tie down in under 500 words. Then there’s the hype; rumours of upwards of 30 million dollars has been spent on promoting the 4th studio album, ‘Random Access Memories’, from French duo Daft Punk.
So, where to start? Well the first track seems like a good place. Nile Rodger’s spent an inordinate amount of time waffling about “groove” over the last 6 months. And ‘Give Life Back To Music’ is basically the epitaph of “groove”. It’s a like an old friend, it sounds strikingly familiar, and it’s probably one of the strongest songs on the album if you’re looking for a bit of Chic disco. It’s probably not strong enough for a single, but it sets the album off on a perfect footing. Vocoders and Nile – what more could you possibly want?
‘The Game of Love’ is a bit like a Robot pining for a really good looking hoover – it’s a cool track and channels a lot of early Air and Royksopp. But it’s a bit on the tame side and despite some lovely drums it never really gets going, even if there is a bit of a jazz wig-out half way through.
‘Giorgio By Moroder’ is obviously one of the marquee tracks on the album. As you probably already know it’s Giorgio Moroder talking about his life in Germany in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The opening sequence is disco loop that wouldn’t sound out of place on Shaft. It’s nothing particularly amazing. But when Giorgio pronounces his name in that comedy accent it just clicks. It’s a probably the first wow moment of the album.
‘Within’ features Chilly Gonzales on piano, and it’s another one you can file under ‘Air 6am chillout track’. It’s bone-achingly beautiful and is basically a duet between a depressed Robot and Chilly Gonzales. It’s a great song, but again it’s all a bit somber and depressing and certainly not Disco. I was always lead to believe that Robots don’t have feelings – so why are they so depressed?
‘Instant Crush’ for me is a bit of a dark horse. It’s features vocals from Julian Casablancas, of the Strokes fame, and sounds strikingly similar to Monarchy’s charismatic futuristic synth pop. As far as collaborations go this one ranks highly, with the finale an impressive solo guitar section that takes the song from average to mesmerising.
‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ is grade-A Daft Punk. Slamming drums, tantalising guitar licks and Pharrell. While ‘Get Lucky’ begins to annoy after a while, this is quite the opposite. There’s elements of late Jacko with the drums, and when you’re comfortable enough with that the Robots appear with a vocal “c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon” which is panned across the stereo mix. If you close your eyes it’s basically like standing in front of a semi circle of Robots singing. Then the vocoders begin to bleed into other layers with different verses for arguably one of the most complex songs on the album.
‘Touch’ is another outstanding track on the album and is a collaboration with Paul Williams, who has written songs for the Muppets amongst others. It falls somewhere between 2001’s Space Odyssey and Fraggle Rock. It’s the most bonkers track on the album, but underneath the seemingly unhinged weirdness lies one of the most interesting songs on the album. Granted it doesn’t sound like Daft Punk at all – but we can guarantee you won’t have heard anything quite like it, unless, of course, you own the sountrack to Disney’s Dumbo. There’s also a kids choir in there too – because, you know, why not?
‘Get Lucky’ is a couple of minutes longer than the radio version we’ve all become accustomed to, and compared to ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ it is not even in the same league. Still, the bridge between Jacko-wannabe and the Robots is one the best you’ll probably ever hear.
‘Beyond’ is another one to be filed under “we want to be Air”. It’s a great song with a nice emphasis on disco guitars – but, again, why are the robots so sad? There’s also a great call and response going on between the Robots as they contrast two different vocoders across the track.
‘Motherboard’ is probably the worst track on the album, it almost sounds like a Tron b-side. There’s no guest vocals, no Robots voice – nothing. It’s pretty forgettable to be honest and doesn’t really add anything you’ve not heard before.
‘Fragments In Time’ is another marqee moment for ‘Random Access Memories’. It features Todd Edwards and while it might start a bit like a country song, it soon breaks free of that and turns into a funky disco song that has everything from playful flutes to lovely bass-shears. It’s a stunning track from start to finish and is certainly a contender for one of the most accomplished tracks on the album.
‘Doin’ It Right’ is also another stand-out track. If you ever want the Beach Boys to do a collaboration with a pair of Robots – backed by a pusuedo trap beat – then look no further. Again, the Robots managed to find that sweet spot between the guest vocalist, Panda Bear, and themselves on vocoders.
To finish the album you have a 8-year-old collaboration with DJ Falcon, again it’s a bit like Giorgio’s track. It’s a perfect way end to the album, but if you didn’t have the monologue from the Astronaut it would probably wouldn’t have had the impact it would need to, to finished off such an auspicious record.
Trying to sum up ‘Random Access Memories’ is difficult. It’s by no means a perfect album, and to be honest it was never going to be with such a range of collaborators. But what the Robots have managed, on the whole, is to create a succinct listening experience with ‘Random Access Memories’. It doesn’t jar from one guest to the next. There are, of course, a few forgettable tracks and some tracks don’t even sound like Daft Punk at times. But on the whole the album is a massive success. It’s not going to suit everyone, but for those of you who still listen to an album from start to finish you can’t argue it’s not an enjoyable experience. There are highs, lows, missteps, and some plain weirdness. But with the amount that’s going on in RAM that was always going to be the case. Ultimately, as a listening experience few albums will come close to ‘Random Access Memories’ this year, and overall its flaws are far outweighed by moments of sheer wonderment and amazement. Like a fine wine ‘Random Access Memories’ is only going to get better with each listen – if you let it.
HBF Rating 5/5