Random Access Memories
There aren’t that many albums that can trade on pre-release hype/hope but the marketing job for Daft Punk’s new album, the duo’s first original studio record in nearly a decade (not counting the TRON: Legacy soundtrack) has been so huge, so spot-on that there’ll be a queue of people lining up to knock the album after a quick listen – or without even bothering at all – that will probably rival the queue of people lining up to buy it (well, erm, there’s never really those sorts of queues anymore anyway, but you knew what I meant).
Random Access Memories has had teaser-trailers and song-snippets and the roll-call of guest stars has been paraded around like stuffed animals on a carousel. It’s been whispered about and screamed over. And it’s only just here now.
But what about on first/second/third/several listens?
Because the album, to my ears, is a masterpiece. It’s brilliant and bonkers and it looks back and lurches forward – often, somehow, at the same time. It’s disco-tinged and lounge-lubed and its got shiny, painted rims and the robot Vocoder voices are jazzier and snazzier than they’ve ever been, the hooks are big – and perfect – and the flourishes of strings and things to captivate and keep pulling you back in are mesmerising. The production is super-fine too – you can hear everything and you need to be because the album very nearly contains absolutely everything.
Okay, it’s a million miles from the harshness that was – and still is – so fascinating about parts of Homework and its closest antecedent in the Daft Punk canon, logically, is Discovery. But then, beyond the obvious singles, it doesn’t really sound a lot like Discovery. (How amazing though that over a decade on so many other things by nameless/faceless others continue to sound a lot like Discovery).
Random Access Memories sounds nothing like Homework and nothing at all like the thin trace-around of the composite-elements of the first two records that was third album, Human After All (not without its charms, by the way). It has a couple of moments that sound – almost, at first – like the TRON: Legacy soundtrack and yet, despite not really ever sounding like Daft Punk from the past this is unmistakeably, undeniably, unashamedly 100% a Daft Punk album – it is in fact the definitive Daft Punk album. It is the Daft Punk of a future they might not ever end up bothering with.
It is – at times – cynical and cheesy. The way the duo has always been cynical and cheesy. Those two adjectives could never stand as criticisms of Daft Punk’s music, only observations. Pointing them out is a bit like being so sure the band members often wear helmets.
But far more often than it is cynical and cheesy Random Access Memories is bountiful and bold and audacious as it lumbers and then glides, stumbles and then soars seeking out moments of strange, hypnotic beauty as it both sends its self up and cuts a new path away from the dance-music archetype that Daft Punk has been for the last decade.
In this record I hear the multitudes that people were so sure swam through Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. All I heard there was a splatter-painting that was thin on substance and sonic but colourful for a second before the water-colours were washed away.
But Random Access Memories is striking and daring and weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird.
Daft Punk decides to do disco-Chic guitars. So who you gonna call? Nile Rodgers. They have often been told they owe a debt to Giorgio Moroder. So he’s here. Offering autobiography, allowing the Gallic funkster-pranksters to reset his thoughts in shades and tones that could have come from the soundtracks and disco and pop songs he invented. And you keep thinking that calling cheese on these boys will work? Well they’ve called in Paul Williams to fuck that up entirely.
It’s meticulous, it’s calculated and the robot get-up and the metallic sheen both in front and behind so much of Daft Punk’s music has always allowed people the easy shot of calling it out as cold-blooded. But for the first time since that startling, brilliant debut here we have a set of tunes filled with (a warm) heart; in a way Random Access Memories feels like the band writing its own aural biography, a musical autobiography as real-time documentary with guest-spot vignettes popping up just like the talking heads do in the video versions of people’s life-story highlight reels.
Random Access Memories is stuffed full of ideas, some of the songs finish then start up again merely because their sides have split and the overspill has spawned a new motif, a new – random – memory is being built as Daft Punk does its best to redefine its role.
Here is an album that has been built to suit its makers, rather than made to build up suitors.
Here is an album that is stupefying and stultifying all at once; an album that never asks if you want to come for the ride, it simply sets off while you’re admiring the panels, imagining yourself possibly getting onboard. All of a sudden you realise you are onboard, you’re there, with them. Along for the ride.
Imagination is what this album is full of – and built from. It has the floor-filling moments, just enough, to guarantee it a life in smart-phone downloads and DJ requests but 89% of this album is a disco record that you sit down with; you possibly sit still to it. You imagine where this music could take you, and half a dozen times – or more – it transports you. It takes you there; somewhere wonderful and weird and outside of the life you’re living when this record is not on. All of a sudden this record is following you, reminding you it’s about when you’re not listening to it. Even when you’re not listening to it, you are, in some (small) way, listening to it.
Random Access Memories will be written off by too many people who feel the need to simply say that it’s rubbish because they never listened to Daft Punk and are frustrated not by the band nor the music but rather the hype.
It will be called an instant five-star classic by people who will never listen to the full album right through more than twice.
And it will be adored by me for years to come. Because it’s baffling and beguiling and bewitching – it’s both bothering/bewildering and bothered/bewildered.
There are songs on Random Access Memories that I shouldn’t care for – or about. Pharrell Williams seems to need a dress rehearsal (Lose Yourself To Dance) before he steps up good and proper (Get Lucky) and Julian Casablancas (Instant Crush) carries on sleepwalking about, occasionally bumping into a microphone. But I can’t skip the tracks that don’t mean all that much – because they are what make the revelations (Giorgio By Moroder, Give Life Back To Music, Touch, Fragments of Time, half of Doin’ It Right and most of Beyond and closing track Contact) so utterly compelling.
I’ve always admired that about this group. About these two. This duo.
Random Access Memories delivers on its hype. It turns hype back into hope. And when in the fuck did that ever happen?