Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Albums / Words

21 May 13

On Daft Punk’s irresistible, Pharrell Williams-guested single ‘Get Lucky’, there’s much talk of phoenixes; of cosmic endings and beginnings. Happily from a critical viewpoint, this is not only the tune which demolished our singles chart, but that which also encapsulates the whole ethos of Random Access Memories.

If, as the band’s apologists claim, modern dance music has homogenised itself into oblivion, then this openly wild and extravagant album looks to the past to ignite re-birth. ‘Get Lucky’ itself is the cabin-log of an act whizzing through a sonic wormhole back to the big bang whence it sprung. (Double-check astrophysics on that oneEd.) For Daft Punk that means discos of the latter twentieth century, and their feverish creative vibe: their love of all things futuristic-sounding, and, naturally, for a more earthy creativity – for sex, fertility, and ‘getting lucky’.

As well as the concomitant sci-fi obsession. This is a voyage, if you will, back to the future. If it’s all sounding rather cinematic, it’s not unintentional. Memories is the apotheosis of widescreen: excessive in run-time, Hollywood budget, lavish production methods, and an ensemble cast plucked from the who’s-who of dance music. Meanwhile, thematically, the Parisians’ familiar android-shtick is ramped up into Blade Runner and Total Recall territory; in which scraps of identity are found by scouring memory and one’s sense of the past.

Salvaged from those greasy dancefloors upon which Daft Punk were notionally conceived are the likes of ‘Give Life Back to Music’ and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ – both of them supreme boogie-inducers which demand, in time-honoured fashion, total submission to the beat. The former features spicy Paul Jackson guitar recognisable from Thriller, and the enlivening presence of Chic’s Nile Rodgers.

With Saturday night fever buried in their chrome skulls, Monsieurs Bangalter and Homem-Christo are spiritually freed up to cruise around further boulevards of retro on ‘The Game of Love’’s meandering jazz fusion. Likewise ‘Fragments of Time’: a jaunty groove featuring house producer Todd Edwards, espousing the Travolta-ism ‘our plan is only to improvise, and it’s crystal clear, I don’t ever want it to end’.

At times, Daft Punk’s holiday in the past does feel endless. At over 70 minutes, Memories is a relentless disco inferno. It wasn’t built for the sedentary reviewer – although in the gargantuan prog-rock delights of ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ and the Muse-inflected closer ‘Contact’, there are plentiful thrills for the non-dancer.

‘Contact’ is the only track on the album to use samples; the rest is supplied by mere earthlings. It also features the NASA recording of the moment Eugene Cernan spotted a UFO from Apollo 17. That’s not as random as it sounds. If Memories is all about steering dance music back to organic methods (an eschewal of the electronic and ‘unnatural’ we never thought we’d witness from Daft Punk), then ‘Contact’ is the central expression of alienation. With cameos from Julian Casablancas to Panda Bear, Daft Punk’s return is packed with virtuosos, voices, and humanity. It’s quite the silence-breaker – and, not unlike this review, often a total waffler.

Check out Get Lucky, Daft Punk’s primary single from RAM, below


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