Saturday, 18 May 2013

REVIEW: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (Columbia Records)

For the first time in ages a song of actual quality has burst into the singles chart, where it has spent three weeks at number one so far and selling in excess of half a million copies. Fans of dance music have been waiting a long time for something great, since they haven't been given much that's been worth hearing over recent years. And because most dance fans aren't buying anything else, it seems that they're all buying the Daft Punk single.

It's not just dance music enthusiasts downloading it, as it's also won the attention of indie/alternative fans, neutral listeners and pop fans who have been able to hear it due to its chart position giving it plenty of airtime. It shows that if "average" people hear something good then they will buy it. It's the closest a song has come to uniting people with different tastes in a very long time.

The new album 'Random Access Memories' is their first in eight years (excluding their 'Tron Legacy' soundtrack), has been hugely anticipated and subsequently raved about in the press as if it were an all time classic. But is it? Opening the album in a bright, funky and overwhelmingly irresistible fashion is the fantastic 'Give Life Back To Music', which quickly catches the ear with its slick, breezy grooves, while 'The Game Of Love' is less disco, more 80's soul. Soul music is a very human thing, something that comes directly from the heart, yet here we have this music being sung by a robot. It's an intriguing idea.

The epic 'Giorgio By Moroder' begins as an interview put to a classy, sensual groove before it mutates into moody synth pop with touches of laid back funk and in the second half, even flashes of explosive post-rock. The way it all fits together is wondrous. Starting with gentle piano before soft organ enters the frame, 'Within' delivers another robo-voiced yet tender soul ballad, but on the unremarkable 'Instant Crush' the vocodered singing wears thin, especially with Julian Casablancas providing the recognisable voice.

The infectious 'Lose Yourself' fuses together another feel good Chic-rhythm with handclaps, a cool falsetto and spare touches of vocoder that are used instrumentally rather than as a lead vocal. It's enjoyable but it doesn't need to run for quite so long though. After a minute and 50 seconds of disturbing voices and space age sounds, the centrepiece 'Touch' briefly becomes a number from some sort of a West End musical, especially in terms of the vocal delivery from Paul Williams, threatening to derail the album. Suddenly the melody bursts into life, gliding into full on 70's disco with horns and a vibe so camp you can clearly see the mirrorball in your mind. Then once again it changes form and tempo during a peaceful, joyous climax which then re-enters the West End-esque part at the very end.

Benefiting from a trademark bassline from Nile Rodgers, 'Get Lucky' is a perfectly constructed pop song bearing a hugely infectious tune that doesn't take long to become addicted to. It's also a rare example of a great track deservedly becoming a mega hit single in the modern mainstream. The first 40 seconds of 'Beyond' could easily be their contribution to a Star Wars score, and the minutes that follow could easily be the work of fellow French icons Air. Perhaps it doesn't break new ground, but it's excellent nonetheless.


Pretty brass, woodwind and strings join up with ambient tones and brushed, almost jazz-like percussion during 'Motherboard', which gradually develops into something darker and more dramatic. When the good-time vibes and smooth breeze of 'Fragments Of Time' arrives, it's a complete change of mood that reverts back to the disco sound that defines 'Random Access Memories'. The sparsely arranged 'Doin' It Right is a straightforward and effective combination of retro drum machines, a repeated vocoder hook and a refreshingly unmanipulated vocal, while the closing 'Contact' focuses on the synths and sees them working with more live instruments, pushing their arranging skills to the limits. At times the live drums and atmosphere brings to mind the excellent UK duo Public Service Broadcasting, as it also does during the dramatic latter part of 'Giorgio By Moroder'. It's an accessible record that still has a great deal of ambition.

But is it a 10 out of 10 like the NME rated it to be this week, and does it deserve the 5 star reviews from Q and other sections of the music press? The answer is not quite. While it may breathe much-needed fresh life into modern dance music, it still has its flaws like most other albums. It's often brilliant and is worthy of high praise but it's not perfect and therefore doesn't quite amount to 100% "couldn't possibly be any better" full marks. Ignore the hype and avoid any disappointment by just listening to this album and enjoying it for what it is. 4 out of 5.





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