- great disco-influenced dance tracks
- amazing production value
- collaborators bring a lot to the table
- sometimes derivative
- going back, but not forward?
- Doin’ It Right
- Get Lucky
- Lose Yourself to Dance
- Giorgio by Moroder
- Instant Crush
The album is an idea before anything else. Random-access memory is a fundamental component in any modern computing device. It allows computers to store and retrieve data that is vital enough to computer life that necessitates rapid and easy usage. Random Access Memories is a wonderful pun, positing real memories, vital to human life, against the robot ethos that will always define Daft Punk.
The duo has effectively “sold their turntables and bought guitars” by using less than a handful of samples and no drum machines. Live instrumentation is the key, in a throwback to the days when dance music didn’t come from a bedroom-artist with some snazzy software. Dance music as a whole has transformed over the last few years to a somewhat disappointing place, with huge bass hits taking a priority over cool grooves, and Daft Punk will not let this stand.
When the idea works, it works brilliantly. The album shines on its collaboration tracks, such as “Get Lucky” “Doin’ it Right” “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Instant Crush”. This could be seen as a weakness, but the tracks still retain their Daft Punkiness, for lack of a better term. The production is unparalleled, with every drum beat, guitar pluck, synth arpeggio and robot voice sounding absolutely wonderful. There are times when listening to the album, such as in the middle of the beyond-epic “Contact” where you will feel like you are indeed listening to a new dimension of music, and you will love it.
But unfortunately, the idea doesn’t always work. Certain tracks, while still sounding good, are pretty boring and derivative. Their quest for reviving the music of a long-past era sometimes results in songs that sound like a Steely Dan B-side. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, who doesn’t love Steely Dan, but it doesn’t really mix in with the album’s greater material. Also, the album’s thematic emphasis occasionally distracts and detracts from the music, as it results in some awkward lyrics and failed attempts at appearing deep. The album is best when it is unashamedly flashy and groovy, when it seeks to go beyond that, such as in the somewhat cringe-worthy heartbreak songs ‘The Game of Love’ and ‘Within,’ the attempts fall flat.
Random Access Memories tries to be greater than just another album, but an irreversible musical statement. It’s a lofty goal that will cause the release to be criticized more heavily and with a broader scope. But in the end, when one forgets everything that has surrounded and still surrounds the album: the mystery, the hype, the thematic emphasis, the advertising campaign, the divisive discussions, etc., the album is great. Even the somewhat-lamer tracks are still very listenable, and the pure awesomeness of the other material more than makes up for it. Daft Punk is still the king of dance.
Impression: Daft Punk probably flew too close to the sun on this one, but still ended up with a great album with many remarkable tracks.
There’s a lot to talk about with this one. Despite not even being officially released yet, Daft Punk’s highly anticipated new album Random Access Memories seems to be the band’s most divisive effort yet, as it represents a sharp left turn out of the bangin’ EDM territory the French duo is known for and into the nostalgic era of 70s funk, disco, and R&B. Some of the strongest tracks on RAM are the ones that really commit to this disco style, like lead single “Get Lucky”, “Lose Yourself to Dance”, and “Give Life Back to Music” (ridiculous/pretentious name aside). These dance-floor ready tunes are really bolstered by Nile Rodger’s slick guitar playing and Pharrell Williams MJ-esque vocals, two of the many guests who appears on the album. Daft Punk got some top tier talent to play on this thing, and it shows–the collaborators all bring enormous talent and interesting new flavors to the mix. The duo’s own work behind the boards is immaculate as well, and is one of the album’s most notable strengths. Other highlights like “Doin’ It Right” and “Contact” are absolutely awesome, with the former being a catchy minimalist pop tune and the latter being a mind-bending synth rock epic that captures the feeling of plummeting faster and faster back to Earth from outer space. “Instant Crush”, which features a robo-Julian Casablancas on vocals, plays like a cut off of Julian’s recent solo album, with all the fun vocal hooks, bouncy synths, and guitar solos he has become known for, though the vocal effects on Julian’s voice do rob it of some of its gritty charm.
Unfortunately this album has some songs that don’t deliver as well. “The Game of Love”, “Beyond”, and “Motherboard” all feel fairly unexciting and lifeless, despite a few cool moments and interesting instrumentation. Not necessarily bad, but songs I don’t see myself revisiting anytime soon, and probably wouldn’t get that much attention without the Daft Punk name. The hard-to-describe “Giorgio By Moroder” is an interesting track, with Giovanni “Giorgio” Moroder delivering a spoken word history of his musical career. It didn’t blow me away however and at times veered a little too far into Tron soundtrack-style drama for my liking.
And then there’s “Touch”, the 8 minute odyssey that sits right in the middle of the album. Beginning with a solitary, distorted robot voice, it quickly opens up into an upbeat orchestral piece that wouldn’t be out of place in a Muppets movie (granted, it sounds pretty awesome). The track then turns into an intergalactic ballad lead by Daft Punk’s signature robot voices, and it is probably the duo’s cheesiest and most emotional piece to date. This all make more sense once you know that the song was written and sung by Paul Williams, the 70s composer who wrote “The Rainbow Connection” among other pop hits. While the song has some really cool instrumentation, atmospheric moments, and is pretty enjoyable, the corniness is tangible. I felt more like I was listening a Broadway show tune than a Daft Punk song.
In a lot of ways “Touch” really sums up the album: totally out of character to the point where it doesn’t even feel like Daft Punk anymore. I know, I know, enjoy the music for what it is, not what you wanted it to be. And I get that they’re branching out and experimenting, and that’s really admirable. It probably wouldn’t be that hard for them to put out another Discovery-style record and have everyone go nuts over it. Still, those who are looking for new EDM tracks to head bop to should know going in that they are going to be a little disappointed in that regard. There’s still a ton to like here, but I feel duped by the album’s “Go Back to Go Forward” marketing. They went back alright, but didn’t really add much to those retro sounds beyond their robot voices, opting instead to simply recreate a past era. Additionally, while the music reflects a shift away from the duo’s traditional EDM style and delves into more emotional and diverse songwriting, the lyrics for the most part do not and the effect can be a little jarring. It would be in their benefit to lessen their grip on the ‘party and dance’ lyrical mantra of their earlier work if they continue to move away from the repetition and rave-ish atmosphere of EDM. All in all, it’s a weird, eclectic, and unexpected album, but one that tries something new and achieves a respectable measure of success in the process. Your mileage may vary, but absolutely worth multiple listens.
Impression: While it’s flawed in a lot of ways, RAM still has amazing production, catchy tunes, and interesting arrangements that will please fans both old and new.