daftpunkramDaft Punk – Random Access Memories
(Columbia)
Words: Lenny DeFranco

“I want more,” croons Paul Williams, one of Random Access Memories’s many hired guns, around the midpoint of the album. I agree.

It may have been unrealistic to hold Daft Punk to the standard of their legacy. In the span of twenty years and just three albums, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have come to serve as the putative godfathers of electronic music. Though EDM (“electronic dance music,” the umbrella term that encompasses techno/club/house/whatever else) has no Beatles, Daft Punk has at least been lofted up as Patient Zero. They have piqued the world’s interest mainly because their songs are repetitions of simple musical phrases that any DJ can drop—16 or 32 at a time—into the middle of any song in the history of electrons. And we all raise our triangles and remember the musical past, as Buckminster Fuller smiles down upon us.

So by the time RAM was released, Daft Punk were electronica’s Michael Jordan, and they’ve had plenty of time to play baseball. They were supposed to come back. I lack the authority to say that they haven’t; there’s no telling where EDM is going, so maybe this is the future. More importantly, the music on this album speaks so little to me that I must assume it’s in a foreign language, that some native speaker is hearing it right now and saying “yes, yes, yes, keep the groove going; no, no, no, don’t stop the rocking.”

In the most respectful formulation, this is a bold departure from the current state of the genre to which they formerly belonged. To me, it is a regression. I love the live instruments, I love the cameos, and fuck it, I love the disco. But most of the album is surprisingly down, in some—long—sections becoming veritably aimless. The brutal one-two of “Beyond” and “Motherboard” in the heart of side two put the brakes on any of the coke-off-a-credit-card swagger the album’s hype had generated.

The first song is classic stiletto-stompin’ disco, but they downshift immediately with the following track, “The Game of Love.” On first listen, I’m with it, but in hindsight, I realize that the album chose its demise from the outset. That second song encapsulates what I find so elusive about RAM (read: bad, if the band didn’t conjure such fond memories): the soulfulness never hits its stride. The drum machines are a little too soft, the writing is pabulum, the emotion is just not there. There’s a reason why, after so many openly human artists, we embraced a couple of robots: at least they wouldn’t fall into this sappy trap.

The album irrefutably deserves credit for housing 2013’s Song of the Summer, “Get Lucky.” Tucked away on track eight, the song fights a losing battle against the album as a whole: it is one of only two upbeat tracks on the record, and as lead single set an expectation for funkiness that RAM doesn’t even attempt to deliver. “Get Lucky” is even underwhelming as a standalone song. Following in the great Daft Punk tradition of mind-numbing repetition, it features a scant eight lines of verse and a zillion reps of the chorus. It’s a great hook, but that’s all there is—which means it’s a great Daft Punk song.

While not as compelling in total as past SOTS’s (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and “Call Me Maybe,” for instance), maybe “Get Lucky” is perfect for music as it is now made: club mashups that reduce a song to its hook for 32 bars anyway. Maybe the genius of Daft Punk has always been the creation of .zip file music, fully communicable in a compressed format. There’s also the singles economy of iTunes. In both regards, the song will be a memorable success.

The same cannot be said of Random Access Memories. Nearly everyone who gives an honest listen will want to like it, but only those with a taste for muzak will get anywhere with that. There’s nothing wrong with a chill album, nothing at all; we all need to wind down from our super sexy days at the beach. It’s disquieting, though, to see Daft Punk come off their rarefied platform to compete with the likes of Neon Indian and Washed Out. And not necessarily win.


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