Daft Punk –Random Access Memories


 When Daft Punk released their debut ‘Homework’ in 1997 neither they nor us would have believed its legacy would still stand strong sixteen years later and it would  be a relevant work still capable of ripping the arse out of any dancefloor or party it chooses to visit. Its follow up ‘Discovery’ leant heavily towards the eighties but was still a great album even if it lacked the urgency and innovation of its mighty predecessor. Since then not much has troubled the public from Daft Punk world with a so-so third album. Until now. Then before it is even released the fourth Daft Punk album is dividing opinion as to whether it is a future classic which deserves all the hype and plaudits or a musical Emperor’s New Clothes which promised so much more than it actually delivers.

 The actual album itself is probably somewhere in the middle of those two opinions and its supporters are right in saying it is funky and danceable whilst its detractors are correct in observing it is overly long-clocking in at over an hour it makes the same mistake many made in the nineties when CD technology allowed the artist to include every outtake, belch, fart and bowel movement to the detriment of the finished work- and strays into prog territory a little too often for comfort. Having listened to it five times in its entirety I can’t imagine I would actually want to sit through the whole thing again. Not that it is designed solely for listening as Daft Punk are essentially a dance act so we are supposed to get up and strut our funky stuff.

 The marketing which has preceded the album also plays a part in this divisive reception, as teasers, speculation, leaks and a roll call of impressive collaborators- Giorgio Moroder, Niles Rodgers, Julian Casablancas step up to the mark-have heralded this as a classic before anyone had even heard the impressive lead off single; the Niles Rodgers led and Chic heavy, ‘Get Lucky’ which as an appetiser whetted appetites even further. However as far as ad campaigns go it is a non starter compared to the lack of fuss, teaser or even any inclination an album was on the way tactics deployed by a certain Mr. Bowie earlier this year. By simply releasing a single, with no fanfare or heralding at midnight as January 7th turned into January 8th  his 66th birthday, he was global news by breakfast. Now THAT is a marketing campaign.

 Onto the music then and the album starts off innocuously enough with another Niles Rodgers heavy track- actually his presence is the DNA coursing throughout and his funky fingerprints are all over the work- which is competent enough but never really catches fire or takes flight. It is strange then to follow it up with the downbeat and melancholic ‘Game of Love’ which would have been better placed after a more rousing effort; as it stands it is akin to having the comedown before you’ve even had the high. Third track in features Giorgio Moroder talking us through his own personal musical evolution before the Punk boys enter the fray with a funky electronic workout which again is competent enough but sounds too much like a Jean Michel Jarre track from the seventies to have any futuristic credentials. As a tribute Daft Punk are capable of coming up with a lot better than this and as an opportunity it is a bit of a wasted one.

‘Within’ is up next featuring elegiac electronically enhanced wistfulness to great effect. ‘Instant Crush’ featuring Julian Casablancas taking a well earned rest from his more natural indie habitat and rewards him with the best track of the album so far. ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ is another Pharrell Williams/ Niles Rodgers workout which works well enough but as a Rodgers collaboration it won’t be troubling Sheila & B. Devotion’s ‘Spacer’ or anything by Sister Sledge as a dance-floor classic anytime soon. ‘Touch’ with guest Paul Williams- sounding uncannily like  Marianne Faithfull croaking her way through ‘Chanson D’Amour in parts- is a big number which takes a little too long to get going from its ‘Shaft’ like beginnings but when it does is worthwhile.

 The big single ‘Get Lucky’ strolls in next and wipes the dancefloor with much of what has gone before. A big, breezy summer classic for a summer we are still waiting for. If it ever arrives at least we have the perfect song to add a little bit more sunshine to the day. Around this juncture I found my momentum waning as following a highlight like this was always going to be a tough order. The following few tracks are capable enough but ‘Fragments of Time’ sounds worryingly like  Steely Dan.  Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se as Steely Dan have their right time and place it becomes clear it is just not on a Daft Punk album.

 The penultimate track ‘Doin’it Right’ redeems things slightly but the closer ‘Contact’ strays a little too close to bombastic prog for my tastes. And there it is, the latest Daft Punk album in its –very long- entirety.

 Somewhere in the sprawling mass there actually is a great album struggling to get out. However some severe editing and more thoughtful sequencing would have helped elevate it to this status. As it stands it is both over indulged and over indulgent and not quite the classic the hype had promised.

As a footnote, after the intensity of listening to it five times in order to give it a fair hearing I found myself  listening to the aforementioned ‘Spacer’ and Suicide’s debut by way of a palette cleanser. Perhaps as reference points these are missed opportunities on an album which seems to lose its way-along with my attention- on several occasions.

Hear the album here.https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/daft-punk/id5468295

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